J A M E S   W A L T E R



A 50-foot-wide, flat lot on the east side of a residential street in Los Angeles, California.  The lot was 150 foot deep.  As I faced the lot from the street the sun at noon would be to my right.  No views beyond the walled limits of the lot.    

What to do about the two-car garage?   Facing the street, the garage door would take up half the width of the lot.  I decided to put the garage in the back of the house with a narrow drive past the house to the back car-court.   I had to give up the back-yard area but thought I could use the roof of the garage as an outdoor roof garden.  This would avoid the deadly look of the garage doors along the street. 

The automobile is a big part of American life.  I thought that it would be good to see the car parked on the driveway from the inside of the house at times.  The main living area of this house would be at ground level.   Glass walls on the driveway side would allow a view of the car and across the drive to plantings along the far side of the drive and in front of the wall.  This would extend the feeling of interior space beyond the glass wall across the drive to plantings along the 8-foot-high wall at the south lot line. 

We were working on three other design jobs at this time.  I find that having more than one design to think about is a good thing.  The unconscious mind will solve design issues while the conscious mind is focused on another project. 

This account of the creative process really only scratches the surface of the many design choices necessary to realize this project.  I like to say that most designs require 10,000 choices.  I start with the needs and site conditions.  To these, I bring my construction experience and my understanding of Organic Principles.   I then do something else and let my unconscious creative mind work the problem. I put aside as much as possible any preconceived ideas.   I don’t want to know what the design will be until it reveals itself slowly in my imagination.  I hold it in my mind without making a sketch until the design is formed enough in my mind so I can walk through it and around it.

 When it can be visualized fully it is time to draw it on paper or computer aided drafting, working out the design in more detail.  I work in plan, section and elevation first, not 3D Sketch Up.  The 3d is in my mind as I work the 2D plan, section and elevation.  The rendering is the last thing done to show others.  I already know what it will look like as a creative vison in my mind. 

The space between the elements are all butt glass with no mullions or frames.  The glass is designed to disappear as air in air thus reducing the definition of where the inside ends and the outside begins. 

Organic Space: “Shelters and defines but never limits or confines”.  

The ‘V’ roof above the living area needed to drain.  I added a pitched cricket from high at the garage in the rear to low at the front.  The rainwater from this would fall into a small wading pool on the ground level.  This pool would be mostly outside in the walled garden but some of the pool would continue under the glass wall into the living area.  I designed a built-in seat along the north wall of the living area.  The end of the seat cantilevered over the pool so a person could sit at the end of the seat and soak their feel in the pool.


The Site:

A suburban street with other houses each side, on 50-foot-wide lots. 

I design all my work on a unit system.  This house uses a 4x4 foot square unit in plan.  The concrete block gives a vertical unit of 8 inches.  I call it a unit system and not a grid because if every element relates to the unit in some way the whole design has unity.    I learned the unit system from Mr. Wright and have used it in my work ever since.   There is a lot more to say about the unit system but that is another essay.

    I did not want to put the second floor completely above the ground floor living area, as that would have resulted in a flat ceiling in the living space.  What to do about this?   I offset the upper floor to the south so that much of the ground floor area on the north side was open above to the roof. 

I had an idea to make a feature of the upper level and look at the underside of the level above.  A rectangular element would be standard construction.  It could be supported on large concrete block piers spaced at four units on center or 16 feet.  The space between the piers could be all glass, open to the underside of the bedroom level above.

My ink and colored pencil drawing view from the northwest street side.


My design process:

My way of design is to let the needs of the program and the site conditions, drive, inspire and inform the design that result.  I never start with an idea of the way the design should look.  I let the design take form in my imagination from being inside the experience.  From within. 


I made a masonry material choice to use standard concrete block, CMU. 

Rendering of interior by Karl Andrew

The bedroom element was on the south side of the house.  The Living area needed a roof. 

The rectangular form of the upper floor seemed rather ordinary.  What else could I do with this element that ran through the house from street to the two-car garage in the rear?  

Could I make it a square tube element and turn it 45 degrees?   I tried it in a section study.   A flat floor in part of it and the rest of the wall/roof up and then back as a cathedral roof space in the bedrooms and bathrooms.  I worked it out in section to get the head room and it seemed to fit.  A balcony toward the street off one bedroom and another off the rear bedroom to the roof garden over the two-car garage.  The two bathrooms were in the center between the end bedrooms. 

The bathrooms needed a small window for light and ventilation.  Just how would I do this?  I decided to cut a 45-degree angle into the side of the square form at the wall between the two bathrooms.  This would get light into both with only one disruption in that side of the roof/wall. 

The ‘V’ bottom of the square element needed to be high enough to walk under but this was too high.  I wanted the ‘V’ bottom of the square tube to be only a few feet above the ground floor.  This required an opening in the element.  I had started to work with the 45-degree turned square.  This was becoming the grammar of the house and why not work with it in as many details as I could?  I cut the opening through the bottom of the tube as a 45-degree cut to make an entry under the bedrooms.  This became the entry and also by adding two more similar cuts between the support piers, I had headroom for the breakfast area and kitchen area.

This design was first worked out on 8x10 graph paper with ¼ inch square grid and drawn in pencil. When I had it resolved enough, I gave this to my longtime assistant Heather N. Krausse and she made 1/8-inch scale drawings of the plans, section, and exterior.  I directed and made adjustments as she worked.  She then plotted a two-point perspective.   I rendered the drawing using colored pencils

A stair to the second floor was necessary. What to do?  It needed to be in the center of everything.  I thought I would make a sculptural feature of it.  It had to be a stair but that was not enough.  So, I extended the steps on one side at a 45-degree angle, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, as a place for books and art objects.  There was space under the stair for a baby grand piano.  A cantilevered built-in desk at the second-floor hallway with a chair facing the upper part of the open living space, made a place to work and also a railing of sorts.

James Schildroth, Architect 1989         

There was not enough area to put everything on the ground floor.  The two bedrooms and two bathrooms had to go on the second floor.

The gate:

The function of the gate was to secure the walled enclosure of the property at the sidewalk and auto driveway.  It would mostly stand in the open position and be a decorative element.   I made it pivoting so that the long side of the drive would contrast with the smaller side of the sidewalk.  The design was mostly 45-degree angles of steel bars and steel plate.  Pure art. 

Rendering from the rear.  All computer renderings are by Razin Khan with 3D by Karl Andrew. 

These two fellows are talented renderers who really brought this design to life, much as I had visualized it in my mind.  Thank you.  

The 45-degree turned square is the theme of this design.  As I refined the details, I used the 45 and the square in all the details. 

Where does the idea and the creativity come from? 

All angles in the design were either 90 degrees or 45 degrees.  I kept the same roof pitch of 45 degrees over the living area.  I never trap space so, the roof over the living area was located a few feet above the lower roof of the bedroom element with glass between the two at the ridge of the lower roof.  This brought the roof over the living area nearly to the floor on the north side and too low.  What to do?

I had the ‘V’ bottom under the bedroom element.  Why not a 90 degree ‘V’ bottom of the main roof that came down to 6’-8” then return up to the north above the 8-foot-high exterior wall?    To support the roof, I designed some concrete beams that are spaced 16 foot on center to match the concrete piers. 

Rendering from the street. 

The Client:

This design was made in response to a competition sponsored by the Wrightian Association in 1989.  My practice was very busy with several projects in the studio at this time but as I worked on all of these my mind began to work an idea for the House in Los Angeles.  The following is my best recollection of how this design came into reality.

The needs:

A small 1500 SF house for a standard 50 x 150 lot in Los Angeles, California.  Two bedrooms, two baths, living, dining, kitchen and a two-car garage.  The lot was to be walled with a garden area within the walls. Also requested was an ornamental gate that could secure the walled area.