Richard Neutra was born in 1892 and raised in Vienna, Austria. It was there that he began his study of architecture under the instruction of Adolf Loos, who, along with Otto Wagner and Louis Sullivan, planted the seed of inspiration for most of the visionary modern architects associated with the movement today.
Primary among his peers who followed in the footsteps of this school of were Frank Lloyd Wright (who Neutra worked for briefly at Taliesin), Rudolf Schindler, Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris, and Raphael Soriano, each of whom went on to contribute significantly to the innovation and vision of the modern movement. In 1925, after serving in World War I, Richard Neutra emigrated to America to join his friend Rudolf Schindler and his wife Pauline in their Kings Road home in Los Angeles. This became a hub for a thriving artistic community at the time, a salon of sorts, and a communal living and working space.
Conrad Buff (father of Conrad Buff of Buff and Hensman) and his wife were fixtures at Kings Road, and gave Neutra his first job, redesigning a garage and entryway to their home. It was here that Richard Neutra met Dr Philip Lovell, who was looking to commission a home designed by Rudolf Schindler. When he gave the project to Neutra instead, there was a falling out between Neutra and Schindler that never repaired, until Schindler’s death.
It is said that Richard Neutra took great care and consideration of his relationships with his clients, their needs and wishes, thinking of himself almost as a therapist. It was this quality that influenced Dr Lovell to turn to Neutra, and the result, The Lovell Health House, remains today, a remarkable example of Neutra’s intentions to create technology in harmony with the natural environment. Another example, Case Study House #20, in Pacific Palisades, was considered to be one of the only houses in the program to anticipate and address the changing lifestyle and anticipated growth of the family who was to live there.
As his international fame and reputation grew, and his artistic circle became wider, his body of work in Southern California became extensive, both in residential and public arenas. Some of his most notable early buildings were the Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs (in which he incorporated a revolutionary hot or cool swimming pool), The Tremaine House in Monetcito. One of his projects with a particularly colorful history is the Von Sternberg House, built in 1935, but sadly demolished in 1972. It was rumored that the famous and eccentric film director Joseph Von Sternberg (Blue Angel), asked Neutra to build a mote around the house (which he did) and that it be electrified…dead bodies to be fished out each morning (of course untrue). It is also rumored that he required no locks on any of the bathroom doors, to discourage any hysterical actresses from locking themselves in! Ayn Rand acquired this house in the 40’s and went on to fashion part of her main character from The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, after Richard Neutra.
Richard Neutra’s career continued to flourish throughout the years until his death in 1970. His son Dion joined his father in partnership in their firm and leads it to this day. The Neutra Office building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. His wife donated the VDL Research House to Cal Poly in 1980. In addition there are many fine examples of homes and public buildings to be found throughout Southern California.