MODERNIST MONDAY: Richard Neutra

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. In our March edition, we’re looking at a California Modernist who is responsible for over 300 homes in the sunshine state: Richard Neutra.

Richard Neutra was born in Vienna, Austria to a wealthy, religious Jewish family, where he was raised with his three siblings. As a young adult he attended  the Vienna Institute of Technology, and while there, studied abroad in Italy with the son of Sigmund Freud, and fought in Bosnia during World War I.

A portrait of a young Neutra

In 1918, Neutra graduated and moved to Switzerland to practice architecture. In 1921, he served as the city architect for a small German town, and soon after met Erich Mendelsohn, who had recently completed the celebrated “Einstein Tower” in Potsdam. Neutra joined Mendelsohn’s firm and worked on a commercial building in Palestine in 1922 and a project in California. The same year, he married the daughter of an architect, Dione Niedermann, and had three children. His son Dion would later become an architect alongside his father.

(left) A home in California designed by Neutra and Mendelsohn (right) Neutra and Niedermann

In 1923, Neutra moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. Shortly after the move, Neutra was hired by famed modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but soon made the decision to join his university friend Rudolf Schindler to work in California. His first largely recognized work was the Lovell House in Los Angeles (1929), known as the first steel frame house in the country as well as one of the first uses of “gunite,” spray-on concrete. 

(left) The Lovell House by Neutra photographed 60 years later (right) The interior of The Lovell House

Neutra’s ability to create airy, modernist designs became recognized as a distinctly “Californian” style, and he was tapped to design more iterations of the Lovell House around the Hollywood and Los Angeles area. While most of the homes shared similar prefabricated elements, Neutra expertly personalized each home to fit the homeowners’ needs and surroundings. The style became known as a “changing home.” Neutra’s Los Angeles office trained younger architects how to work with these structures, many of whom went on to have successful careers of their own.

(left) The Kaufmann house by Neutra, which is similar to the Lovell archetype (right) The Hammerman house by Neutra, which is similar to the Lovell archetype

A 1935 home in the Valley, designed by Neutra, was home to philosopher and author Ayn Rand, who wrote “The Fountainhead ” while living in the home. It is said that the novel’s character Howard Roark was based on Neutra, although he himself was not a fan of the author’s work.

Schindler and Neutra’s partnership soured when Neutra’s work was selected for the 1932 MoMA exhibition on modern architecture and Schindler’s was not.  In 1949, Neutra partnered with Robert E. Alexander, another successful American architect. In the 1950s, the pair designed a campus for Orange Coast College, among other buildings.

(left) A Lovell House model on display at the MOMA (right) Neutra’s work at Orange Coast College

In 1949, Neutra’s fame reached new heights when he was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine. In 1955, Neutra was asked to design an embassy in Karachi, Pakistan by the United States Department of State as part of an embassy program touting some of the world’s most prominent architects, such as Gropius, Breuer, and Saarinen. 

An issue of TIME Magazine in 1949

Throughout the 1960s, Neutra partnered with his son, Dion, to design a series of European villas in Switzerland, Germany, and France

(left) Neutra and his son (right) A mountainside European villa by Neutra and his son

When he passed away in 1970, Richard Neutra was one of the world’s most prolific modernists, with over 300 iterations of his “changing house” built in California, many of them still standing.

Seven years after his death, he was posthumously awarded an AIA Gold Medal, one of the highest honors an architect can receive. He famously said of his profession that he was “an eyewitness to the ways in which people relate to themselves and to each other, and [his] work is a way of scooping and ladling that experience.” SOURCE: “Spotlight: Richard Neutra,” ArchDaily; “Neutra,” US Modernist; “Richard Neutra,”  Wikipedia