Richard Joseph Neutra was born in Vienna, Austria on April 8, 1892, and died on April 16, 1970, in Wuppertal, West Germany. He was known for his role in introducing the International Style into American architecture and for developing the style of California Modern into residential architecture. He was particularly interested in the works of Otto Wagner.
He attended the Technical University, where he studied architecture under Adolf Loos. Loos educated Neutra in the rapidly trending American Style, and Neutra was influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. World War I interrupted his studies at the Vienna University of Technology. He served for three years in the Balkans, returning to Vienna in 1917 to earn his degree. In 1919 after his service was complete, Neutra settled in Germany along with his wife. There he began working for renowned architect and designer, Eric Mendelsohn. He won an award in 1923 for a city-planning project for Haifa, Palestine (now in Israel).
The Neutra’s lived with Rudolf and Pauline Schindler at 1921 Kings Road residence. After years of encouragement from friends including fellow Austrian R.M. Schindler (who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1914), Neutra moved to New York in 1923. He moved on to Chicago, spent several months in Wright’s Taliesin Studio in Wisconsin, and arrived in Los Angeles in 1925. His wife Dione and son Dion soon followed.
Neutra’s desire to come to America was sparked by the stories of his mentor Adolph Loos and cemented after seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1911 Wasmuth portfolio. In 1926, he established his own practice and soon won his first major commission from one of Schindler’s clients, Phillip Lovell. The 1929 Lovell Health House in Los Feliz was a great achievement in steel-frame construction, living with spaces seemingly floating above the steep hillside. The house was praised for its glasswork, cable-suspended balconies, flowing space, and an array of windows. The house had glass expanses and cable-suspended balconies and was stylistically similar to the work of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Europe. Throughout the 1930’s he continued to design houses in the International Style. This house has become an iconic symbol representative of Neutra’s distinct style and marked his early success and rise to fame.
In 1946, Neutra was praised for his design of the Kaufmann House and his participation in the early Case Study House Programs. In 1952, he worked on the Moore House in Ojai, California, and provided the design with a stylistic balance between the abode and its surrounding environment through his innovative and creative ideas. The house was located in the middle of a desert, and therefore, it faced a shortage of water. However, Neutra added a reflecting pool to the design for water storage and irrigation. He built the house in such a way that it seemed to float on the pond and resembled an oasis. In the 1950s, the AIA awarded this design.
In 1961, he undertook another innovative project, the Gettysburg Cyclorama Centre, which also garnered worldwide acclaim. All of his designs have the unique and distinguished feature of making the outdoors a part of the house by adding a range of porches, patios, or gardens. Neutra believed that “architecture should be a means of bringing man back into harmony with nature and himself.”
During the ’50s and ’60s, Neutra was commissioned for building and designing churches, colleges, universities, housing projects, cultural centers, and office buildings. In 1966, he formed a partnership with his son and named the firm Richard and Dion Neutra Architects and Associates.
Shortly after World War II, Neutra creates his most memorable works: the Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs, California (1946–47), and the Tremaine House, Santa Barbara, California (1947–48). Elegant and precise, these houses are considered exceptionally fine examples of International Style. Carefully placed in the landscape, Neutra’s houses often have patios or porches that make the outdoors seem part of the house. He believed that architecture should be a means of bringing man back into harmony with nature and with himself and was particularly concerned that his houses reflect the way of life of the owner.
Among his voluminous writings are “Survival Through Design” (1954), “Life and Human Habitat” (1956), and an autobiography, “Life and Shape” (1962).
Neutra experimented constantly. He embraced technology, oddly enough, as a way to connect man with nature. His philosophy of “bio realism” sought to use biological sciences in architecture “so that design exploited, with great sophistication, the realm of the senses and an interconnectedness to nature that he believed fundamental and requisite to human well-being,” as described by architect and Neutra scholar Barbara Lamprecht.
His prolific career encompassed iconic residences, innovative housing, civic and commercial projects around the world, and inspiring city and community plans, including an unbuilt plan for affordable housing in Chavez Ravine (now the site of Dodger Stadium).
Unlike Schindler, Neutra was included in the pivotal 1932 MoMA exhibit on Modern architecture, further fueling his career. The same year, Neutra built his own home and studio, the Van der Leeuw (VDL) Research House in Silver Lake. After a fire destroyed the house in 1963, Neutra rebuilt it with his son Dion using current ideas and materials.
Some of the works of Richard Joseph Neutra:
- Kelton Apartments
— Kronish House
— Palos Verdes High School
— The Poster Neutra
— Poppy Peak National Register Historic District
— Platform Houses
— Chuey Residence
— Jardinette Apartments
— Eagle Rock Recreation Center
— Perkins House
— VDL Research House II
— Ward-Berger House
— Olan G. and Aida T. Hafley House
— Kun House
Neutra retired from practice in 1968, spending his final years in Europe. He died in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1970.
Despite its international renown, Neutra’s work has sparked intense preservation battles. An enormous outcry followed the demolition of his 1962 Maslon House in Rancho Mirage, and the Cyclorama Visitor Center at Gettysburg, designed by Neutra with Robert Alexander, was razed in 2013 after years of fierce advocacy. In 2010, the proposed demolition of Neutra’s 1955 Kronish House in Beverly Hills spurred the City of Beverly Hills to strengthen its preservation policies (which it has since weakened). The work of Richard Neutra continues to inspire design, debate, and devotion.
One of the most influential architects of the twentieth century, Richard Neutra helped define modernism in Southern California and around the world.
Although born in Europe, Richard Joseph Neutra left a legacy in the United States. He was deeply influenced by American architects who ultimately helped to shape and define his style. At Scarano Architects, PLLC, we enjoy learning about the architects who molded the skyline we gaze upon. What determines the shape and form of the buildings around us is an ever-changing story. Follow our website and we will keep you informed. As always, we are here to assist you with all of your architectural needs. We are only a phone call, text, or click away!