Richard Neutra, Pioneer of the International Style

Black and white photo of Austrian-American Architect Richard Neutra, c. 1969
Photo by Nora Schuster/Imagno / Hulton Archive / Getty Images (cropped)

Born and educated in Europe, Richard Joseph Neutra helped introduced the International Style to America, and also introduced Los Angeles design to Europe. His southern California firm envisioned many office buildings, churches, and cultural centers, but Richard Neutra is best known for his experiments in modern residential architecture.

Background

  • Born: April 8, 1892 in Vienna, Austria
  • Died: April 16, 1970
  • Education:
    • Technical Academy, Vienna
    • University of Zürich
  • Citizenship: Neutra became a US citizen in 1930, as the Nazis and Communists rose to power in Europe.

Neutra is said to have studied with both Adolf Loos as a student in Europe and Frank Lloyd Wright when Neutra came to America in the 1920s. The simplicity of Neutra's organic designs is evidence of this early influence.

Selected Works

  • 1927 to 1929: Lovell House, Los Angeles, California
  • 1934: Anna Stern House, CA
  • 1934: Beard House, Altadena, CA
  • 1937: Miller House, Palm Springs, CA
  • 1946 to 1947: Kaufmann Desert House, Palm Springs, CA
  • 1947 to 1948: Tremaine House, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 1959: Oyler House, Lone Pine, CA
  • 1962: Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • 1964: The Rice House, Richmond, Virginia

More About Richard Neutra

Homes designed by Richard Neutra combined Bauhaus modernism with Southern California building traditions, creating a unique adaptation that became known as Desert Modernism. Neutra's houses were dramatic, flat-surfaced industrialized-looking buildings placed into a carefully arranged landscape. Constructed with steel, glass, and reinforced concrete, they were typically finished in stucco.

The Lovell House (1927 to 1929) created a sensation in architectural circles in both Europe and America. Stylistically, this important early work was similar to the work of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe in Europe. Architecture Professor Paul Heyer wrote that the house was "a landmark in modern architecture in that it showed the potential of the industry to go way beyond mere utilitarian considerations." Heyer describes the Lovell House construction:

"It began with a prefabricated light steel frame that was erected in forty hours. The 'floating' floor planes, constructed of expanded metal reinforced and covered by concrete applied from a compressed air gun, were suspended by slender steel cables from the roof frame; they express the changes of floor level strongly, following the contours of the site. The swimming pool, at the lowest level, was also suspended within the steel frame, from U-shaped reinforced concrete cradles."
(Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America by Paul Heyer, 1966, p. 142)

Later in his career, Richard Neutra designed a series of elegant pavilion-style homes composed of layered horizontal planes. With extensive porches and patios, the homes appeared to merge with the surrounding landscape. The Kaufmann Desert House (1946 to 1947) and the Tremaine House (1947 to 48) are important examples of Neutra's pavilion houses.

Architect Richard Neutra was on the cover of Time magazine, August 15, 1949, with the heading, "What will the neighbors think?" The same question was asked of southern California architect Frank Gehry when he remodeled his own house in 1978. Both Gehry and Neutra had confidence that many took as arrogance. Neutra, in fact, was nominated for an AIA Gold Medal during his lifetime but was not awarded the honor until 1977, seven years after his death.