Richard Joseph Neutra is considered one of the world’s most influential modern architects. His innovative and open designs express the freedom from conventions that many find in Southern California . He was born in Vienna , Austria in 1892 and died in Los Angeles in 1970. In Berlin , Neutra worked with modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn, but from his student days he was drawn to the United States . The work of Frank Lloyd Wright was an early inspiration, and it wasn’t long before Neutra and his wife Dione arrived in New York in 1923. While in Chicago , where he’d traveled to meet Wright, the Neutras saw a travel poster exclaiming “California Calls You!” It wasn’t long before they were on their way West.
“Place Man in relationship to Nature; that’s where he developed and where he feels most at home!”
– Richard Neutra
Neutra’s first impressions of Southern California were candid. He found Angelenos of the 1920s “mentally footloose,” with a cultural naivetÃ© “bordering everywhere on mixup.” But he eventually grew to love his adopted city. With the support of friend and fellow Austrian-born Southern California architect, Rudolf Schindler, Neutra’s first major commission, the Lovell House (1929), announced the arrival of an important new architectural vision. Neutra responded to the Southern California climate by creating designs where extensive use of glass allowed indoor and outdoor spaces to flow freely together. A journalist once described his work as ” … the most amiable relationship between science, technique, industrialization and good taste.”
In 1932, Neutra designed a home for himself in the Silverlake hills. It also served as his office. Describing his work habits in an article available at the Neutra website( www.neutra.org ), Neutra’s architect son Dion writes: “Dad’s best time for creative thinking was early in the morning, long before any activity had started in the office below. He often stayed in bed working with ideas and designs, even extending into appointments which had been made earlier. His one concession was to put on a tie over his night shirt when receiving visitors while still propped up in bed!”
One of Neutra’s most famous projects is the Kauffman House (1946), built on a remote site near Palm Springs . Another is the Moore House (1952) in Ojai, featuring a reflecting pool which also served as a fire and irrigation reservoir. As Neutra’s son Dion describes it, “the pool creates the illusion that the house in floating on a water garden.” In addition to homes, Neutra designed many distinguished public buildings, including the Channel Heights housing project (1932) in San Pedro, the L.A. Hall of Records (1961–2), and many schools, including Emerson Jr. High School (1938) in West L.A., Palos Verdes High School (1961) and the Fine Arts Building at Cal State Northridge (1961), which unfortunately was severely damaged in the 1994 earthquake and razed in 1997. Sadly, many Neutra designs have been lost, are poorly maintained, or modified beyond recognition. Racing against time, historians and architectural activists are working hard to preserve this great architect’s contributions to an especially Southern California vision of urban life.
– Contributed by Jon Wilkman, 1999