A review of the newest Neutra book: “The Neutras, Then & Later”

wpaper6Por:  Jesus Tovar

For few months now, I’ve been in contact with Dion Neutra, a great friend and Architect who lives in Los Angeles, California.  Son and partner of one of the greatest architects in the XX century:  Richard Neutra. I’ve always felt close to their Architecture and their philosophy that’s why I tried to make contact with him. One day I sent him an email hoping to get an answer and I got a book signed, a treasure that I keep in my office. I consider him, since that day, my friend and I want to make a trip to meet and interview him and enjoy their buildings and his company.

The main goal of this document is to discuss this book (which I recommend a lot, please visit www.neutra.org and purchase it): “The Neutras then& later”, written, edited, and arranged by Dion Neutra…including many photographs by Julius Shulman.  Following are the table of contents’ items that I chose to write this article about. I chose them only because I like them, don´t ask me a specific reason (after each item I added my opinion and comments that came to my mind only from pictures shown in the book).

From Introduction:

II.-Vision-Forword-Subscript (Dion Neutra):

Mr. Neutra had the idea to share his memories about his father, their architecture and the way that his firm believes. He talks about some interesting personalities like Julius Shulman and his vision for more future projects. I’m grateful to help him out to spread this message to Mexico and Latin-America with his permission. Today, Neutra’s legacy is part of global Architectural culture, a treasure. It is great to see the “thens” and so sad, often, to see the “laters”. We must talk more about preservation of iconic Architecture!

From Part I:

3.-What is it like to be the son of a famous architect: Richard Neutra, his father, was more like a professor than a father in some way. Dion felt connected with him in an intellectual way and verbal way, no sports at all. Dion played violin and one question came to my mind: Who are the musicians who you admired the most?…Why is it so important for the designer to be close to details in Architecture? Could you make available for us a LOFASI file? Do you the plan to publish your father’s letters?

5.-The Neutra Design Philosophy/Urban Legends: “We plan Man in relationship with nature” is a simple line to summarize a philosophy but I know they are right! Frank Lloyd Wright and the rest of the genius in architecture believe in this rule. Understanding this rule is evolution, free movement of the eyes expanding “indoor-outdoor” sensation to be humans one more time because we are not! Replicating nature we can be more close to nature and to human’s nature.

As architects, in relation to the client, “we must love and know him if we want to serve him” as Richard Neutra’s quote states…Regarding urban legends; this is very interesting, this kind of clarifications coming from Dion because who control stories about architecture?…We hope to get more details about this to really understand the way that great architects work and live and to avoid to forget they are regular people like us. Maybe Dion needs to write his autobiography.

7.-Venues of the practice: To be honest I want to see more pictures and details about the projects listed here: Schindler House, Douglas St. Duplex, VDL Research, Neutra’s office building and the Reunion house. I don’t know if Neutra Institute can give us more idea about these buildings at list with sketches or maybe they have architectural drawings….Dion’s stories about his childhood are awesome!

15.-Dion Neutra/Reunion house: When I can make a trip to L.A. I must visit this house first; it’s the kind of house that we can all enjoy. I hope to talk with Dion someday there over a cup of coffee. The concept “The view from the inside” represents the proper way an architect can follow a correct way to design because his reason for every project is a user, a fellow human being.  This house was like an architectural lab for the two Neutras over the time and maybe this house needs a book itself to have a complete view of the changes and its reasons, a father-and-son book. What’s going to happen with this house in the future? Which are the main differences between Dion and Richard in architectural design solutions? What was the reason to put the Moore House in Ojai in Wendy’s bedroom? Which are the 3 projects where the Neutras used “board on board” ceiling? The accident when the finish was wet in the ceiling is the kind of solutions that came to architects by magic. Sounds like Arthur Johnson could give us more stories about the reunion house too! I recommend to analyze with time to get an architectural lesson the plan showed on pages 25 and 26 of this wonderful book, it’s an architectural plan lesson. About the changes made in the 70s I consider that any building in some manner needs changes over the time but my question is: Who must do that? Of course, desirably the same architect of the house, or at least somebody close to the original project.

29.-Neutras at risk:  It could be so nice if we can get a complete catalog only for Neutras “at risk” to try to do something, avoid demolitions! Some problems which appear when any building changes their owners is the fact that new owners do not know anything regarding great architecture. But how can we avoid this situation in real life and in the future? Education is the word. Following are the projects listed (Somebody must have plans of these houses and buildings available?)

 

  • Maslon: It is very sad to see this kind of stories when people promise to maintain houses and buildings and they demolish. In this case we must consult a good attorney to have good advice. For this reason I like Dion’s quot“People will promise anything a buyer wishes to hear in order to gain title to the property. Don´t believe them!” Conservation Agreement needs to be applied in all buildings to protect them.

 

  • Lovell Health House:  This house is unique, is one of the most famous Neutra’s designs. Especially because its interiors and fame, this house deserve to remain untouched. Sounds to me that could be a Neutra´s museum someday in the future where we can see plans, models, photographs…a new VDL III.

 

  • Wise house: In some manner another idea that came to my mind is the fact that owners in some way needs to make a follow –up over the years with the same architect or firm. This means that if Richard Neutra built and design this house, owners need to consult this same firm (in this case Dion’s) to make renovations in the future. The question is how can we make this happen?

 

  • Chuey House:  This charming house needs a renovation to get a new life. But how get the funds to do this? Owners need to put the money on the table? What about the economical crisis? Rich people who love Architecture with capital A can help us out?

 

  • Sten House:  At least this house had the opportunity to be restored, maybe in a wrong way, maybe in a good way but who knows? Nothing that hire the same architect and firm, but the owner knows how to make contact with Dion Neutra and his office? With good luck in the future Dion can help us out with a renovation project for this house.

 

  • Mariners Medical: If this project was awarded with the AIA’s 25 year award for “the most important building in Orange County” why is it suffering partial demolitions and changes? Where are the people who love Neutra’s Architecture?

 

  • Coe House: I’d love to see more pictures of this house. I felt that this one could be another opportunity to Neutra’s office for the future. Site in almost all the cases give buildings the risk to be demolished instead to build something better, but new buildings are better than the old ones?  In this case, I don´t think so.

 

  • Rados House: It looks like is a great house with complete details and finishings. I hope to have more information about Red Marsh because sometimes we don´t have books regarding this people. Can we make contact with him or his family? Dion must be alert with this project cause it looks like is going to still untouched by anyone and customers should respect him.

 

  • Nash House: This house clearly needs to be rescued. Seems like is the typical case where owner can demolish and sale it without any good intention to have a conservation project or so. We must follow –up this story closely. I understand these owners at least made some preliminary contacts with Dion, but unfortunately have been doing their own thing with a contractor and not much contact with the Neutra office.

 

  • Karachi Embassy: For its international location, this building represents a great opportunity to Pakistan’s government to show the world how they can protect great buildings like this one. I´m agree with the idea to change its use if it is possible to be a cultural center or something similar to have a good reason to make a complete renovation. Maybe Dion’s office could advise on any such proposals.

 

  • Kronish House: This house in on the edge too and could be demolished or unsuitably restored. We must think in more ideas to avoid this. Do you have some ideas to share? Maybe an option could be to talk with the new owner and offer him Dion’s services before they use the bulldozers or do other damage.

 

From Part II-Project Pre 1950

43.-Von Sternberg: In my opinion this was a wonderful house done by Richard Neutra along with others of course. “Walled in complex” is a concept that famous people need to consider more and more often, like a defensive architecture needs to hug its users inside. Reading regarding panels used by Mr. Neutra we want to learn more about his preferences about this material and his buildings and the way that he used them. Howard Roark could be so happy with this house, I´m pretty sure. Please try to see the movie inspired by Ayn Rand, the second owner of this house, “the Fountainhead”.

51.-Kaufmann:  Maybe the most famous Neutra house. I had the experience to be at Fallingwater (Wright project of course) and I consider both like member of the same family and quality. Barry Manilow made bad changes and he almost destroyed the original design. I want to locate the Harris’ documentary regarding their renovation to show it to my architecture students someday along with elevations, section cuts, perspectives and others to have a better over-all understanding of this masterwork.

From Part III-Projects 1950 and later

67.-Nash: We all love the photographs made by Julius Shulman of this house. Maybe in the same way than Kaufmann’s house can be restore using these awesome pictures in a future and following its details. Photographers are important for any architectural firm to be used to show architecture and like a treasure for future projects. Why don’t all architects support their work via photographers? This house was clearly changed in a way to be more regular and without life and Neutra’s magic, it is sad. It seems that Dion has a bunch of pictures to make a great renovation on this house in the future.

73.-Connell: Another house with beautiful site at risk, close to a famous golf course and in front of the beach; like a paradise. It seems it can be restored with good luck too because they can use a bunch of pictures of the original project. Does Dion have a set of drawings with specs of the buildings or house that we are talking about? Who is going to champion this renovation along Dion? Where can I make contact with Anthony Kirk?

79.-Bond: It is an amazing story about all the customers during the time until today. It seems hopeful that this one is going to stay in the same condition for few years from now. Do we have more updated photos about this house available? Can we make contact with photographers Hewitt and Garrison to get more pictures of the house with their permit?

83.-Karachi: Who was Alexander in this project? A contractor? An architect? Another interesting thing about this building is the presence of the ghost that can be produced several deaths on site. It can be possible? About detailing and construction the way that local craftsmen can complete any work in any country can be a lesson for every architect including Richard and Dion. I felt that this building allowed them to learn a different way to make things. The idea proposed by Neutra, a “prayer wall” facing to Mecca was wonderful to show respect for their religion to give spirituality to the site and to allow people can perform their mandatory prayers five times daily in every floor of the building. Dion wrote 1500 snail letter about this project! A bunch of letters! What’s going to happen with this building if Karachi suffers a big earthquake?

93.-Gettys: The demolition of this building was the crime of the century as the Neutra Institute website states! This historical site deserved this kind of architectural solution and project!…What was the deep reason to demolish it? Why do clients not respect a concept or idea over the time and forever?  Why does no president pay attention to architecture more deeply? It is because it is not important politically? And finally as Dion quoted: “this project more than any other, deserved better treatment”. Click on the Neutra website www.neutra.org home page and download Dion’s monograph on this wonderful project; it’s an Ebook!

101.-Maslon: Until year 2001 approximately, this house was still untouched and wonderful. Seeing all images which appear in the book I consider this house one of the most beautiful in Neutra’s career, this one was demolished too and the new house is ugly! Why people think that new architecture is better than Neutra’s Architecture? Who is going to give me the reasons?

111.-Hunington Beach Library: This multifunctional building was complex but complete in its time. When his father died in Germany Dion took this project in his hands to design it. This project was a lesson for Dion Neutra regarding the connections to need to be there to have success in any project. Especially we must consider that client must be educated or at least have complete confidence in his architects and the firm. Another important issue is that is very important that client do not make huge changes during its process with the architect because such may decrease its quality and original concept. Of course diminished budgets can impact materials’ quality too.

The vision to propose the clock at the main desk saying: “Knowledge is available the world over” was amazing for its time, before the internet. This building is close to its original conception. Separation between children and adults reading areas is a great idea to protect privacy along with the presence of water and plants inside the building creating a relax atmosphere to read without the need to whisper!

About the pathways in the carpet is a detail which help people to walk in every direction and at the same time is geometric composition which add beauty to the spaces. Another interesting feature and well known in Mexico is the notion of a mural for the kids, there they can express and feel freedom to draw or paint something and maybe win a contest! Like Dion wrote: “this project remains one of the most significant of our practice”…”and over the time, truly become a CULTURAL RESOURCE”.

From Part IV

127.-How Neutra place came to be: This was the most concentrated group of Neutra designs all done independently in the world from 1940s to 1980s. Neutra Place the name of this area need to be visited by everyone interested in Architecture, including me. It was a great sign to rename this place for a good reason, like a celebration as the Centennial of Richard’s birth year.

131.-VDL boyhood memories; Dion and Ray

Dion:  Great stories came from him and one which especially is interesting for me is Soriano’s maybe is a good idea to write a book about him and his life and works. Maybe he is a great architect still undiscovered.  Another good one is the comment which he got from his father saying: “You might enjoy learning to draft, it’s what we do here. It´s a skill that could always serve you well whether you go into the field or not. I’d make a space for you in the office and assign one of the draftsmen to work with you. You´d put in a couple of hours a day after school”. A good way to pay a violin! Dion faced his father with this comment: “Dad, let´s confront this head-on. If you’ll quit smoking I´ll quit the funnies and read some Dostoyevsky!”…very brave. I guess these stories can be written in a larger volume in the near future. Dion please consider my advice to do this.

Ray: Reading his stories I have now the interest to know more about friends of Neutra’s family like Titus Leber, Hartmut Zellinsky, Frank and Jean Wilkinson. These alone need another book.

145.-Personal Stories I: My favorite was this one RJN: Story about last meeting with Schindler at Cedars. For me the most amazing would be to see Richard, Dion and Rudolph in the same space, at the same time.  Maybe Dion could recall more details about this story…

147.-Lost Neutras-I Building no longer with us: I cannot believe that about 20% of Neutra’s buildings or houses are gone! Of course we will waiting for a book containing the “later” of the complete list of their office. It is a great challenge. Of course this list is going to be increased with Parts II or III so this list it will be huge. But my question here is: Is somebody going to take care of the future of the buildings which are still there? People outside the US are concerned about this situation? Can we help in some manner?

From Part V

157.-Birds& Bees letter 1937 (RJN letter): This is a gentle letter from his father and it sounds to me like he was a good father maybe so busy for his talent but good father. I felt with this letter that he was close to Dion in some way, teaching, giving concepts, ideas, advising the existence of the principle of individualization for example and I consider the rest of the letter a lesson for life.

I’m going to take these phrases from this letter: “Human beings like those simple cells must love to stay alive”, “The lights of two human beings must glow together like one if they love each other”, and “it is almost the sweetest thing to remember common happiness”.

161.-RJN birthday letter 1963 ‘On getting older’: From this letter I took: “Architecture, especially with social concern mixed in more heart and mind filling than dentistry-although everything has a universal outlook and an endless time perspective. I may find that “institute” which bears your name and these days was in so many European papers a useful heritage” and finally: “You may not get much help from my badly reduced store of energy-the more I am full of hope for yourself on this anniversary and I am happy that your boys hang on you; may they make you happy too”.

Final comments

Its graphic design is unique and different like Neutra’s Architecture and its content. But on the other hand, stupid demolitions need to be considered like a warning for all great Architecture which is threaded by ignorance and capitalism not only in the United States. The same is happening in Mexico and the rest of the planet. But why? Who is going to avoid this in the present and future?

 

In Mexico, its architects need to read and over all understand more about Neutra’s works and his philosophy if we don´t want to suffer unfair demolitions and we must take action as soon as we can. Demolition of outstanding Architecture is our bigger sin all over the world. Where are the Mexican architects? Where is our civilized society?

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Autor: Adolfo Peña Iguarán

bloguero, arquitecto, empresario, académico y gestor cultural.