The homes of two Austrian architects who helped support modern American architecture.
Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known simply as Bauhaus, a German art school established in 1919, and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, advocated the Bauhaus style, also known as the International Style, which was marked by the absence of ornamentation found in the popular Art Deco style and by the harmony between the function of an object or a building and its design.
Known best for its structures made of reinforced concrete and glass, and square buildings with flat roofs, the International Style took the world by storm as the definitive style of modern architecture. During this time, the International Style was being deployed in the most cutting-edge form in the state of California in the United States. While the works of prominent designers Charles and Ray Eames propelled the California modern design movement during the late 1940s, a time when the mid-century modern period was starting to develop, there were two Austrian architects who immigrated to the United States that played a significant role in influencing future architectural styles.
Richard Joseph Neutra first met Rudolph Michael Schindler, who was five years older than him, at the Vienna University of Technology in 1911. The two, who would later become lifelong friends, were heavily influenced by the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and fellow Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who wrote Ornament and Crime, an essay that heavily criticized the use of ornaments in art.
Schindler immigrated to the United States in 1914, and three years later landed a job working with Wright. By 1922 he had started taking on projects of his own, and constructed an office cum house on Kings Road in Los Angeles. The state of the structure has remained untouched 90 years since it was constructed, and is commonly referred to as the Schindler house.
At the time, similar to how automobiles were being mass-produced, the industrialization of homes was also becoming the new norm. To meet the demands of the times, Schindler (not the factory) poured concrete into formwork created on the surface of the construction site to create panels, which he then would tilt vertically to create walls for the structure with his unique unit construction method.
While pursuing a style of logic on one hand, you could also see his organic intentions when it came to configuring architectural spaces.
By putting up concrete walls behind the rooms and opening up the space facing the courtyard area using materials such as wood and glass to create a space with a "closed rear surface and an open front surface", his architectural style was able to connect the inside of the house to the outside and integrate them using nature.
His style was also influenced by Japanese architecture and its use of low one-story homes, sliding doors, eaves, and bamboo hedges. It is believed that he received hints about traditional Japanese residential spaces, which heavily incorporate nature, through Wright, who had resided in Japan for a long time during the construction of his projects.
Between 1922 and 1926, Schindler constructed the Lovell Beach House for his friend Phillip M. Lovell. Lovell, who was inspired by the healthy lifestyle of exercising and proper diet, a trend that later became widespread throughout the West Coast during the 1960s, commissioned Schindler to construct the beach house in Newport Beach.
The Lovell Beach House became one of Schindler's most iconic architectural works, and today is known as one of the masterpieces of the International Architectural Style as a predecessor to Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion.
Nine years after Schindler made his way to the United States, Neutra left Germany with his wife and arrived in the United States in 1923. After working under Lloyd for three months, whom he met at the funeral of American architect Louis Henry Sullivan, he moved to Los Angeles. There he reacquainted with his friend Schindler and accepted an invitation from him to work and live communally in Schindler's Kings Road House in California.
For the next five years, the two of them worked together on various projects. In 1926, Neutra was commissioned to provide the design for the Lovell Health House. The Lovell Health House was met with high acclaim as a global modern architectural masterpiece, and he became a household name in the architecture scene.
The VDL Research House was built in Silver Lake, Los Angeles in 1932 for Neutra, his wife, and his son Dion. The original house was completely destroyed by a fire in March 1963 and was rebuilt by Neutra and his son Dion using the original footprints of the house.
The house was later donated to Cal Poly Pomona and is today used as a research center by the faculty and students of the University's College of Environmental Design.
By incorporating natural lighting and constructing a glass-fronted penthouse on the second floor where you can see the beautiful landscape of Silver Lake passed the watering hole (that is currently covered in gravel) and patio completely surrounded by greenery, you can experience the stunning natural environment that California has to offer.
By effectively utilizing the space, the building is equipped with various furniture including a bookshelf, sofa, and fully equipped kitchen, while it also features functional facilities such as a large switch-type blind panel that can help adjust the strong natural sunlight.
The large one-story home, flat roof, and open rooftop are optimal for California's climate, which sees little rainfall and mild temperatures. Even the opening structures of the large glass windows, which typically would be affected by heat loss, are not a problem here. When reexamining these geographical factors, you can start to see why the International Style became so widely developed in this region.
For Schindler and Neutra, the modern architectural style that pursued a balance of logical thinking and functionality was not merely a product of mass production. Their two homes, which still stand today in Los Angeles, depict the completely new era of architecture that they strived for, where people could live in harmony with nature and their surroundings.
MAK Center for Art and Architecture L.A.
R.M. Schindler Studio and Residence
835 North Kings Rd., West Hollywood, CA 90069-5409
Neutra VDL Studio and Residences
2300 Silver Lake Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039
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edit & text: Kosuke Ide
photo: Keisuke Fukamizu