Richard Neutra is considered one of Modernism’s most important architects. Like other modern architects, he designed buildings using simplified shapes and forms. Some of his most famous structures are the Kaufman Desert House in Palm Springs, California and the Cyclorama Building in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Little Richard was born into a wealthy Jewish family in 1892.
His family lived in Hungary before most of them moved to the United States. His sister, Josefine, was an artist. Her drawings inspired Richard to study art. He went to school in Vienna before moving to America in 1923 and becoming a citizen in 1929.
Neutra was admired for his beautiful watercolor drawings. They were an architect’s response to the work of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Unlike those artists, Richard preferred to draw his travels. He drew people he met and the places he visited. Particularly during his trips to the Balkans in World War I.
In the United States, Neutra worked for Frank Lloyd Wright before moving to California to live and work with a college friend. In the early 1930s, Neutra trained several young students who also became successful architects.
In his own architecture business, Neutra earned recognition for his geometric but airy buildings. But he was especially respected for his ability to understand the real needs of his clients. Unlike other architects who liked to impose their own ideas on a client, Richard Neutra used detailed questionnaires to discover his client’s needs. The houses he built were a blend of art, landscape, and domestic comfort. They represented a West Coast variation of the mid-century modern houses that were becoming popular elsewhere in the country.
Richard Neutra died in 1970.
His son, Dion, kept his father’s office in Silver Lake, California and Neutra’s widow donated the Ven deer Leeuw House to the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. It is used today by the college’s Environmental Design students. Unfortunately, many of the other buildings that Neutra designed were destroyed after his death.
Modernism was revived in the 1990s though, and the respect of young architects gave new value to Neutra’s work. Some of those artists have even restored Neutra houses that had been falling apart. Thanks to those architects, historical associations, and thoughtful home owners; You can still see Richard Neutra’s work throughout California.
As an art teacher, I love teaching my students about architecture. I’ll seize any opportunity to prove that their art skills can be used outside the art room, and architecture is a gateway to furniture design, fashion, industrial design, and hundreds of other “unseen” art professions. Richard Neutra is an ideal artist to teach these things because (1) his amazing drawings prove that, YES, architects ARE artists, (2) he also designed some REALLY cool furniture, and (3), as a Modern architect, the simple shapes that he favored reinforce the most fundamental art skill: everything you see, no matter how complicated it looks, is made up of simple shapes. Oh, and (4) did I mention that he used to work right down the road from our school?
Portrait of Richard Neutra drawn by yours truly based on a self-portrait by Neutra and a fantastic illustration of him from the cover of Time magazine.