My all-time favorite architect is Richard Neutra.
And it just so happens that he would have celebrated his 125th birthday this week. So what does this mean for you?
It's NEUTRA WEEK!
Yes, a week of posts dedicated to my favorite Modern hedonist, starting with his iconic work, the Kaufmann House.
Let's start with a bit of background. Born in 1892 in Vienna, Austria, Neutra studied under early Modernists Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos at the Vienna University of Technology before serving in World War I. After working with German architect Erich Mendelsohn, Neutra moved to the United States, briefly working for Frank Lloyd Wright before relocating to California.
It was California that became the canvas for Neutra's brand of bright, minimal, and personal modernism. Neutra's breakthrough came with his 1927-29 design for the Lovell House in Los Angeles, a landmark of International Style with its stark, white walls, overlapping planes, and ribbon windows. Influenced by the streamlined aesthetic of LeCorbusier and the overlapping spatial organization of Wright, the Lovell House commenced decades of successful residential commissions on the West Coast. Meticulous and neurotic in analyzing his clients' psyches, Neutra created an architectural language steeped in modernism, the western landscape, and the American way of life.
Arguably his most iconic design, the Kaufmann House (1946-47) epitomizes the glamour and optimism of the midcentury California lifestyle. The residence, made famous by photographers Slim Aarons and Julius Shulman, is a modernist complex of glass, steel, and stone, spreading like a pinwheel over the desert floor of Palm Springs. The horizontal planes of the house, laying low and appearing to hover over the landscape, are emphasized by the sliding glass doors that blur the boundaries between the interior and the exterior, the house and the garden. The prefabricated materials complement the open floor plan, making the interior space feel light and airy. While the iconic pool (see Aarons and Shulman) functions not only as a means of recreation but as a counterbalance to the heavy wings of the pinwheel plan. Designed as a vacation home for Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. (who commissioned FLW's Fallingwater in Bear Run, PA) and his family, the house fell to disrepair after a string of owners but was painstakingly restored during the 1990s. You can see more photos of both the interior and exterior here.
In many ways, Neutra created the essential lightness synonymous with West Coast modernism. His residential designs epitomized the midcentury American Dream, a dream drenched in California glamour and sunshine, and in many ways, his architecture still represents a unique brand of American confidence. Deeply personal, attuned to nature, and geometrically balanced, Neutra's construction of domestic life defines the romanticized California aesthetic and remains a symbol of money, success, and the art of living fashionably.
See you on Wednesday for more Neutra.
Image at top of page- Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, California. California Palm Springs United States, 2013. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2013631255.
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This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.