When Richard Neutra arrived in Southern California in the 1920s, he brought with him a point of view that perfectly suited the natural beauty of the area. For nearly 50 years, he designed now-iconic homes and buildings with flat roofs and wide banks of windows for clients who called the region’s steep hillsides and sweeping deserts home.
Neutra was born in Vienna in 1892. Long interested in architecture, he studied under Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner at the Vienna University of Technology, though his schooling was interrupted by World War I with Neutra serving three years in the Balkans. Following the war’s end, he earned his degree, worked for a landscape architecture firm then as a city architect. In 1922, he married Dione Niedermann, the daughter of an architect.
The couple moved to the United States in 1923, where Neutra would work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin. Soon, the Neutras moved farther west, settling in California and living with Rudolf Schindler and his family. The two architects collaborated on numerous projects and helped cofound Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce (AGIC).
The partnership frayed in early 1930s and the former collaborators wouldn’t reconcile until the mid-1950s, just before Schindler’s death. Following his break with Schindler, Neutra partnered with other designers, cofounding the firm Neutra and Alexander with Robert Evans Alexander, which operated from 1949 through 1958, and later partnering with his son Dion to form Richard and Dion Neutra and Associates.
Neutra is credited with designing more than 300 homes. Many examples of his work can still be found in and around Los Angeles, sleek and airy homes jutting from hillsides, large banks of windows welcoming in the city’s sweeping views. Over the decades, as tastes changed, sadly Neutras have been lost. Famous among these is the von Sternberg House. Built in the San Fernando Valley in 1935 for film director Josef von Sternberg, the home was later owned by author Ayn Rand, and was demolished in the early 1970s to make way for a condo development.
The destruction of the Maslon House in Rancho Mirage in the early 2000s caused a large public outcry and efforts are being made to preserve these modern masterpieces. In 2010, news of the proposed demolition of the Kronish House inspired the city of Beverly Hills to strengthen its preservation policies (though the Los Angeles Conservancy reports these policies have since weakened).
Dion Neutra, soon celebrating his 90th birthday, is maintaining the Neutra legacy more than 40 years after his father’s death. Through The Neutra Firm, he consults with homeowners interested in preserving or adapting their original Neutra homes. Through the Neutra Institute, Dion is raising awareness of threatened Neutra projects and rallying support for the protection of these homes and buildings.