The Schweikher House

By Will Bruder

(Con­tin­ued from page 1)

Pri­mal and cave-like the mass of this fea­tured ele­ment glows in the west light of the room’s floor-to-ceiling glazed doors. These doors frame a view to a raked gravel court­yard punc­tu­ated by a sin­gu­lar sculp­tural tree. A view to this land­scape ele­ment is shared by the pub­lic living/dining zone and sleep/dressing/bathing zone (with Japan­ese soak­ing tub and red­wood shower) to the west. The kitchen is at the joint between of the pub­lic and pri­vate realms and is washed morn­ing light.

Con­ceived as both home and stu­dio, the ‘T’ plan is com­pleted by the north­ern arm of the draft­ing stu­dio work­shop. This area offered a place for work and client meet­ings close to home.

Upon its com­ple­tion in 1938 the house was as a sim­ple and mod­est assem­blage of 2400 sq ft. In essence it is a three-room open plan struc­ture with beau­ti­ful spaces for liv­ing, sleep­ing and working.

A bal­anced com­po­si­tion of com­mon “Chicago sewer brick,” exotic first growth red­wood (unheard of at the time), Dou­glas fir and newly invented ply­wood planes; the house is an exquis­ite inven­tion in all respects.

Influ­enced by the think­ing of both the archi­tects George and Fred Keck and the inventor/visionary Buck­min­ster Fuller, whom he worked with the early 1930’s in Chicago, and dri­ven by the forced fru­gal­ity of the Depres­sion sur­round­ing its cre­ation, the house was respon­sive to solar ori­en­ta­tion, nat­ural ven­ti­la­tion, and a direct expres­sion of sus­tain­able build­ing strategies.

At the end of World War II as the cover story of the May 1947 Archi­tec­tural Forum mag­a­zine (with pho­tog­ra­phy by Hedrich Bless­ing stu­dios), the house had already served the cou­ple for nearly a decade. Sur­rounded by a matur­ing land­scape that was designed and over­seen by the noted Mid­west­ern land­scape archi­tect Franz Lipp, a series of addi­tions were made in 1948–50 to accom­mo­date the birth of Paul Schweikher Jr. and the space needs of Schweikher’s grow­ing pro­fes­sional studio.

The bed­room suite for Paul Jr. is inserted in the south­ern por­tion of the ‘T’ near the mas­ter bed­room. North of the exist­ing stu­dio a can­tilevered con­fer­ence room with the unex­pected ceil­ing height of 6’3″ plays against the full north fac­ing glazed aper­ture that over­looks Salt Creek. A small appren­tice apart­ment is tucked beneath. The low wood clad garage model work­shop lies to the west cre­at­ing addi­tional clo­sure to the auto-court area while main­tain­ing the sequence of dis­cov­ery and expec­ta­tion of the homes orig­i­nal 1937 site condition.

Each inter­ven­tion reflects Schweikher’s sense of scale and pro­por­tion, while sug­gest­ing a sim­pler atti­tude about struc­tural expres­sion and a more min­i­mal­ist use of the orig­i­nal palette of red­wood, brick and glass. The result is a con­vinc­ing har­mony that does not mimic the orig­i­nal but enhances the qual­ity of the whole.

In 1953 the Schweikher fam­ily moved from Illi­nois to Con­necti­cut when Paul took the posi­tion of Chair­man of the Yale School of Archi­tec­ture (1953–57). It was indeed for­tu­itous for the house and for us that Martyl and Alexan­der Langs­dorf became its next res­i­dents. Their lov­ing and respect­ful occu­pa­tion spans nearly sixty years. Now the wor­thy and gen­er­ous vision of the Vil­lage of Schaum­berg allows this trea­sure of time­less archi­tec­tural value to be expe­ri­enced, enjoyed and learned from by all. Its lessons are many; the expe­ri­ence of its poetic and prag­matic real­ity will give all who visit a new and dif­fer­ent engage­ment with the world we have inherited.

Today, the Schweikher House is noth­ing short of an archi­tec­tural jewel in the sub­urb of Schaum­burg. Vir­tu­ally hid­den off a wooded stretch of Meacham Road, this Prairie-styled mod­ern mas­ter­piece is tucked away down a wind­ing gravel driveway.

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