“Vanishing Act” by Alex Ross is a concise history, with house photographs, of the Austrian-born architect Richard Neutra, the pioneer of the Southern California modern architecture in the 1930s. The article appears in the September 27, 2021 issue of The New Yorker.
Neutra’s benchmark was floor-to-ceiling windows and mirrored sliding doors to dissolve boundary between the abundant greenery of Los Angeles and the interior of the house. Like Frank Loyd Wright, he favored flat roofs and minimalist exteriors He sited most of his houses where the residents could enjoy a glorious view.
The architect, as a man, was far different than his calm architecture. He’s been described as pompous and overbearing, barging into his clients’ houses without warning to show his new clients and his entourage his finished work.
The article describes the friendship and then the bitter falling-out of Neutra and Schindler, five years Neutra’s senior. They were acquaintances in architecture school in Austria, but Schindler got out of Europe just before World War I. Neutra wasn’t so fortunate; serving four years in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Schindler welcomed Neutra when he finally arrived in California with his wife. From there, their relationship went downhill.
I leave you to read the rest of the article about their tragic falling-out.
Neutra worked on what are today considered luxury houses, but he also designed and built public buildings. He worked on, but failed to bring about, an affordable housing complex in Los Angeles for low-income people. “A slum,” he called the project.
The article relates the stories of people who have commissioned and/or lived in Neutra houses. One woman, who is now a hundred-and-two years old, attributes her longevity to the beauty and calmness of her Neutra house.
Recommended for all architecture buffs, anyone interested in the history of Los Angeles, and anyone interested in a creative person’s life.
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