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Richard Neutra (1892-1970)

Born in: Vienna, Austria
Education: Vienna Institute of Technology, Vienna, Austria
Best known for: Detailed questionnaires to discover clients’ needs, tremendously geometric but open and airy structures that deliver serenity through order, and the Kaufmann House. Department store magnate Edward Kaufmann chose Neutra for the project by over his former employer, Frank Lloyd Wright, who had designed Fallingwater for Kaufmann in Pennsylvania. The glass-steel-and-stone landmark received a five-year restoration by Marmol Radziner.

Two iconic photographs that say “Palm Springs” to people across the globe depict Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House. The first is Julius Shulman’s black-and-white photo of the illuminated estate at twilight. The second is Slim Aarons’ Poolside Gossip, featuring two vibrant bathing beauties upstaged by Neutra’s dazzling architectural backdrop. The home and its site orientation that employs the pool for balance still feel ahead of its time — and timeless in their ability to capture the Palm Springs dream.

Yet Austrian-born Neutra was neither a cliché nor a one-trick-pony. His breadth of work encompassed Southern Californian churches, schools, substantial commercial and institutional buildings, structures embodying the International Style, and a U.S. embassy in Karachi, Pakistan. A California military academy and villas in Switzerland, Germany, and France are also Neutra designs.

Fifteen years before he designed the Kaufmann House, Neutra tried to move to the Soviet Union to help with the housing shortage by designing easily constructed workers’ housing. Like many midcentury modern architects, he took a roundabout path to finding Southern California, then stayed and worked prolifically once he did. After earning a degree in Vienna, serving as a lieutenant in the Balkans, working with a landscape architect in Switzerland, as a city architect in a small German town, and at an architectural firm in Berlin, Neutra’s career crossed the pond.

Having studied under early modernist luminaries Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner in Austria, he began working in L.A. in 1925, including briefly for Frank Lloyd Wright. He partnered with Robert E. Alexander from 1949-1958 then formed his last partnership with his middle son, Dion. (With Dion eventually at the helm, the firm celebrated its 90th year in 2016.)

Other Notable Properties:

  • Miller House, 1937
  • Kaufmann House, 1946
  • Maslon House (demolished), 1962