Los Angeles Modernism Revisited Houses by Neutra, Schindler, Ain, and Contemporaries
David Schreyer Andreas Nierhaus
Los Angeles Modernism Revisited Houses by Neutra, Schindler, Ain, and Contemporaries Gregory Ain, Craig Ellwood, Leland Evison, A. Quincy Jones, Ray Kappe, John Lautner, Allyn Morris, Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler
Photography: David Schreyer Text: Andreas Nierhaus
Back to Modernism A Travelogue Richard Neutra Ohara House
30 A. Quincy Jones , Whitney R. Smith MHA Site Office 40 John Lautner Salkin House 48
Richard Neutra McIntosh House
58 Craig Ellwood Kingswood Road House 66
Richard Neutra Freedman House
Richard Neutra Strathmore Apartments
Leland Evison Fuss House
101 Gregory Ain Daniel House
112 Rudolph Schindler Lechner House 125 Richard Neutra Oyler House 134 Richard Neutra Miller House 147 Allyn Morris Morris House 158 Richard Neutra Wilkins House 166 Ray Kappe Kappe House 176 Richard Neutra Kambara House 186 Richard Neutra, Dion Neutra VDL Ⅱ Research House 194 Rudolph Schindler Oliver House 206 Gregory Ain Orans House 216 Floorplans
“L.A. is probably the most mediated town in America, nearly unviewable save through the fictive scrim of its mythologizers.” Michael Sorkin, 1982
Hollywood, Los Angeles
Back to Modernism A Travelogue
Andreas Nierhaus David Schreyer
1 Reyner Banham, Los Angeles. The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Berkeley / Los Angeles / London 2009 (first edition 1971), p. 3. 2 Hans Bunge, Fragen Sie mehr über Brecht. Hanns Eisler im Gespräch, Munich 1970, p. 23. Quoted also in Mike Davis, City of Quartz. Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, London / New York 2006 (first edition 1991), p. 51. 3 Mike Davis, City of Quartz. Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, London / New York 2006 (first edition 1991), p. 23.
The awareness of no other city in the world has been so greatly shaped by images—and on top of that, film images—as Los Angeles. It is the myths that have shaped a single entity from a disparate fabric spread over an area of more than 1,540 square miles; that have grasped it within the deceptive term “city,” which based on the traditional notions of the term formed in Europe does not apply. Already in 1925, Aldous Huxley described the lack of a coherent, densified urban space in Los Angeles as “nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis.” In 1971, Reyner Banham spoke of “instant archi tecture in an instant townscape.”1 On the other hand, the Austrian composer Hanns Eisler, who like so many others was driven by the Nazis into exile in California, retro spectively called the city—or, rather, Hollywood, which was common ly used as a synonym for it—a “dreadful idyll […], that actually has spun from the mind of real-estate speculation because the landscape does not offer much by itself. If one stopped the flow of water here for three days, the jackals would reappear and the sand of the desert. The whole thing is a large-scale real estate scam that paid off tre mendously.”2 The greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is now one of the larg est agglomerations in the world. While the city had roughly 50,000 inhabitants in 1890, the population doubled from nearly 0.6 to 1 .2 million in the 1920s. Today, four million people live in the city of Los Angeles, and 14 million in the metropolitan area. Los Angeles is de scribed again and again as an artificial paradise in which heaven and hell, dream and nightmare lie dangerously close and dizzyingly inter twined. At the same time, this “City of Quartz,” as the sociologist Mike Davis calls it in his well-known, eponymous study, always offers a gaze into the future of our globalized, urban societies. According to Davis, “Compared to other great cities, Los Angeles may be planned or designed in a very fragmentary sense (primarily at the level of infrastructure) but it is infinitely envisioned.” 3 Not only the medium of film, which is most closely related to the city, but al so photography offered a significant contribution to the architectural “vision” of Los Angeles—and in this, simultaneously shaped the city’s visual mythology. Until today, the image of modern architecture in Los Angeles, a specific “Los Angeles modernism,” has been defined primarily by the photos taken by Julius Shulman (1910—2009). Shulman’s photos were also present when we began our examination of the work of the architect Richard Neutra (1892—1970); they were there, and were likewise, standing in the way. Neutra discovered the skills of the young photographer by chance in 1936, which led to an intensive collaboration that continued until Neutra’s death. The compelling nature of this collaboration was unique in architectural history: Shulman not only shaped the image of Neutra’s architecture; he also became one of the most sought after and influential documentarians of Californian modernism. Shulman’s oeuvre paradigmatically represents the medial networks, or rather, entanglements of twentieth century architecture. Its reception, yes, architectural discourse as a whole, was determined from the out set, in part, by the translation of the built structure into photography, a formally and creatively similar, technically optimal media; the
4 See Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity. Modern Architecture as Mass Media, Cambridge, MA / London 1994. 5 “A number of Neutra houses seem to have a ‘Shulman’ moment, a part of the d esign that seems to have been conceived with a photograph in mind […]. Did Neutra design these areas to be photographed?” Edward Ford, The Incon venient Friend. On Inaccuracy, Exactitude, Drawing, and Photography, Harvard Design Magazine, no. 6 (Autumn 1998), pp. 12—21. 6 Jonathan Crary: Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, MA / London 1992. 7 Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architec ture, New York / Oxford 1982, p. 201. 8 See Andrea Gibbons, City of Segregation. One Hundred Years of Strug gle for Housing in Los Angeles, London 2017.
rchitecture’s modernity was based, no least, on its confrontation a with (mass) media.4 Photographic “recordings” rather than drawings now mediated an “authentic” image of the building to a growing audience, and quite often, this “medialization” of the structures was accounted for during the design process.5 The establishment of modern architecture thus went hand in hand with the perfecting of printing techniques for the reproduction of photos (hence, high- circulation). By the twentieth century, new viewing habits heavily in fluenced by photography, had long placed a filter over the designing and viewing of architecture: from the mid-nineteenth century, a “photographic gaze” had solidified to a nearly global, cultural model.6 For the most part, Shulman photographed the buildings im mediately after their completion; as is common practice until today in the architectural industry. In the case of Neutra, the architect accompanied the photographer and instructed him in the “correct” way of seeing—and photographing—his works.7 Shulman presented the structures, which were compiled from smooth and sharp-edged, quasi de-materialized surfaces, as abstract compositions, as art works ousted from time—and thereby prepared them as such for the canon of architectural history. At times, people inhabit Shulman’s photographed architecture; they act in a way consistent with contemporary notions of society and gender roles, thereby suggesting and propagating a use of the buildings that complies with social norms: happy, white American nuclear families in their modern, privately owned homes. There was no allusion to social conflicts—which seems particularly controversial in light of openly racist policies back then, in the mid-twentieth century, and also now perpetuating the discrimination of ethnic and religious minorities governing land, construction, and housing in Los Angeles, in particular, and California, in general.8 When extreme, ethnically motivated riots with dozens of deaths erupted in the Watts district in 1965, Shulman and “white” modernism had reached their climax; when the city was once again shaken by violent riots in 1992, Shulman had already retired. His photographs bear no traces of the deep ruptures in the city’s social fabric. In addition, Shulman’s photos connote a presence of modern archi tecture in Los Angeles that fails to correspond with the hard facts in two ways: “Modern” is, for example, alongside “Spanish Colonial” or “Georgian Revival,” now as then, simply one of many stylistic pos sibilities for furnishing one’s home. Moreover, the majority of the buildings are private residences that play no role in the urban space because they are hidden behind the thick shrubs encircling their yards. Californian modernism was practically unseen for long stretches, and de facto accessible only to a limited circle—the in habitants and their guests. Despite their deeply private character, with their buildings, architects such as Neutra raised a claim to social relevance beyond the borders of the respective property. They therefore relied that much more on optimal visualization and media tion in order to stage them as examples and models of contem porary architecture. In Kevin Vennemann’s Sunset Boulevard. Vom Filmen, Bauen und Sterben in Los Angeles (2012), the author weaves the individual
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles Hollywood, Los Angeles 9 Kevin Vennemann, Sunset Boulevard. Vom Filmen, Bauen und Sterben in Los Angeles, Berlin 2012, p. 45.
strands of Los Angeles’ film and architectural history—comparable with Thom Andersen’s legendary documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself ( 2003)—into a densely atmospheric portrait of the city that fluctuates between fascination and revulsion. The author, joined by the writer Chris Kraus, is on the way to an interview with Shulman, which never takes place. The book focuses on the issues that Vennemann wants to discuss with the living memorial to archi tectural photography. At their core, his questions touch on the ever- problematic relationship between architecture and its visual re presentation, between a building and its depiction. Starting from the renowned Case Study House Program, which aimed to popularize modern living, Vennemann investigates the ex plosive socio-political power of Californian modernism, which Shulman’s photos defuse rather than support. The photos, which turn functional buildings into random design icons and “capture them as art objects,” thwart the promise of modern housing that is affordable for everyone: “This architecture might have truly been successful. If not for Shulman.”9 When the two of us, an architectural photographer and an archi tectural historian, set off for California in the summer of 2017 to have an unobstructed as possible view of Californian modernism, we took along Vennemann’s book as travel companion. In our luggage was also Barbara Lamprecht’s documentation of Richard Neutra’s entire oeuvre, momentous in all respects; and Thomas Hines’s unsurpassed monograph of the architect. Reyner Banham’s euphoric description of Los Angeles as an alternative concept of city was likewise present, along with Mike Davis’s critique of the power structures on which this vision is based. At first, our journey was devoted to Richard Neutra’s residential homes; a category of building whose surroundings are defined more by the comforts than the chasms of the metropolitan area’s virtually endless overflow. Most of the houses that we looked more closely at for our research were located in one of those privileged zones on the slopes or foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains separating the Los Angeles Basin from the San Fernando Valley to the north. In ethnographic maps of Los Angeles, this region is identified as a pure ly white area, in contrast to the neighborhoods to the south domi nated by Blacks and Latinos. Nonetheless, the deep social contradic tions that shape life in Los Angeles constantly rise to the perfect, glossy surface. From the outset, we conceptualized our journey as an expedition of sorts. While the buildings were quasi “frozen” in the well-known historical photos, we were interested in the traces that decades of use had left on them. Were these houses formally perfect artworks, or flexible machines that could be easily adapted to changing resi dential needs? Often, the most obvious difference could be seen in the vegetation, which due to improved water supply and the use of fertilizer, is now significantly denser than when the houses were built. Our interest in the buildings—apart from their undisputed formal qualities—had to do with issues related to spatial economy and atmo sphere. In our opinion, they seem to set an example for an updated, but not formalist, confrontation with current issues of living in limited
Edgeware Road, Echo Park, Los Angeles Glendale Freeway, Echo Park, Los Angeles
space and under intensified climatic conditions. In Europe, Neutra was and is still considered an architect of prohibitively expensive residential homes—but we want to show Richard Neutra the way his son Raymond described him to us in our talk, as someone who took commissions for large villas in order to survive financially. Neutra’s true interest was in building simple houses, making the most of sparse framework conditions, in designing housing projects, and in urban planning. Nonetheless, Channel Heights, Neutra’s most import ant housing project, designed in 1942 for the dock workers of San Pedro in southern Los Angeles, is long gone. And those houses that Neutra designed for the middle class are also now unaffordable luxu ry real estate due to the increase in property prices; and likewise, for this very reason, are often in danger of demolition. It is characteristic that the Desert House in Palm Springs built by Neutra for Edgar J. Kaufmann, the client for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, is among the icons of modernism, while his fantastic Oyler House in Lone Pine, whose handyman owner did the carpentry work himself, is virtually unknown to a larger audience. For us, these thrifty and uncomplicated houses embody the great promise of Californian modernism—formulated in them is a “new lifestyle” attainable by the majority that sharply contrasts those agi tated and frequently bloated palaces, which, while perhaps corre sponding with the popular notions of Hollywood as a “dream factory,” for that very reason, have absolutely nothing to do with most people’s “real lives.” We tried to withstand the seductive sparkle of the archi tecture icons and went out in search of structures capable of mediat ing a subtly differentiated picture of Los Angeles modernism. Our project thus had a goal, but we deliberately left open the path to get there. Since we were dealing primarily with private homes, we were reliant on the cooperation of the people who lived in them. We picked up the thread at one location and followed its course along the network of contacts and personal relationships, and op portunities produced by them. At times it also led us out of the city, to locations that could most definitely be considered “satellites” of Los Angeles. The architect John Bertram turned out to be our most important connection; through his interest and help we were granted access to an entire series of buildings. Also Raymond Neutra opened numerous doors for us. We soon realized that we had to and wanted to adjust our “research design” to fit the reality of Los Angeles. That meant, starting from Richard Neutra, also taking into consideration other architects who had a more or less close relationship to him—or rather, his structures. This was the only way that we could do justice to this fascinating “Architecture of the Sun” (Thomas S. Hines ), which was practically unknown in Europe, or only partially known. Including exemplary houses by Neutra’s compatriot Rudolph Schindler (1887—1953) in our collection seemed an obvious choice, as did showing in the context of our project, the diverging positions of these two pioneers of modern Californian architecture who both emigrated at an early stage from their homeland Austria. Schindler, who like many other Europeans, was already fascinated by the build ings of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867—1959) when he arrived in the U. S.
Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles
10 See, Hines, Richard Neutra, pp. 55—78.
in 1914, lived in California from 1920, first as a construction manager for Wright’s Hollyhock House, soon as a freelance a rchitect. Based on the innovative construction method of prefabricated reinforced con crete elements and closely tied interior and exterior spaces, the house he built on Kings Road in West Hollywood in 1922 is consid ered one of the earliest documents of a completely new way of build ing in California. Positioned diagonally across from it, from 1916 (and until its demolition in 1970), was a further incunable of early modernism, the Dodge House by Irving Gill (1870—1936), whose smooth, cuboid forms reveal remarkable parallels to works by Adolf Loos, but have their roots in the adobe structures of the Pueblo Indians. Schindler’s house—today’s MAK Center for Art and Architec ture—was, at the same time, Richard Neutra’s first home when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1925. The story of Neutra’s and Schindler’s collaborations, their friend ship, as well as their estrangement has often been told and will not be elaborated on here.10 However, what should be stated is that both were shaped to the same extent by the different concepts of modernism of Otto Wagner (1841—1918) and Adolf Loos (1870—1933) and when in California, applied their Viennese experiences in differ ent ways—but were also driven by different desires: While Schindler liberated himself from European conventions in California, Neutra wanted to utilize the U. S .’s highly-developed industrial production for architecture. Their buildings for Philip Lovell, Schindler’s Beach House ( 1926) and Neutra’s Health House (1927—29), were premature masterpieces and founding structures of a specifically Californian modernism—years before Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson proclaimed the “International Style” on the East Coast. Gregory Ain (1908—88) united the disparate approaches of the two Viennese architects to his own architectural concept, which appears both systematic and individual. More so than any other ar chitect in California during this time, Ain considered housing a so cial issue and was intensely concerned with communal housing and building: He conceived “social landscapes” and with his concepts, introduced the term “sharing” in hitherto unknown connections. With their theatrical stagings in space, the structurally and formally spectacular homes by John Lautner (1911—94), who like Schindler and Neutra before him was an admirer and employee of Frank Lloyd Wright, are probably the perfect architectural equivalents to Los Angeles’ visual culture oriented on the (cinematic) effect. In the cur rent “mid-century modern” boom, they are considered highly desirable real estate. Lautner’s buildings are extremely suitable as film sets, and yet they are so much more: complex, sensual sculptures with a fine sense of materials and surfaces, which generate unique spa tial experiences. At the same time, they refuse to function as exam ples: modernism is not a social project here, but rather, a vehicle for absolute individualism. A. Quincy Jones ( 1913—79), on the contrary, tried to combine the new living forms of the twentieth century with a design appropriate for California’s landscape and climate. His houses do not have flat roofs yet are nonetheless unmistakably modern, the wood construc tion is not hidden behind stucco—like most of the houses in Los
ngeles—but instead, is exposed, and even becomes a means of de A sign. Jones’s architecture is the opposite of Lautner’s: unagitated, calm, serial, with high social aspirations; precisely because of its for mal reserve, it appears “consistently” modern today, rather than “moderately” modern. The name Craig Ellwood (1922—92) is closely tied with that of John Entenza, editor of the Art and Architecture journal and initiator of the Case Study House Program, which began in 1945. The pro gram’s aspirations were to address a broad audience through struc turally innovative and economical, formally minimal, aesthetically valuable homes; and thereby democratize modernism. Ellwood, a selftaught architect, built no fewer than three houses within the program. He was extremely successful in harmonizing Mies van der Rohe’s formal stringency with California’s living culture, whereby here, too, Schindler and Neutra had laid the basis long before. Allyn Morris (1922—2009), on the contrary, is among the less known architects of California modernism. After studying mechanical engineering, he turned to architecture and with a sure hand, integrat ed steel, concrete, and glass into his first buildings. Although Schin dler was already long dead and nearly forgotten when Morris opened his office, he had a great influence on Morris’s work. Leland Evison (1900—63), who after a long stint as a draftsman, opened his own office in Pasadena in 1945, has largely fallen in to oblivion. His little-known buildings reveal a sovereign handling of material, construction, and space, along with site-specific climatic conditions. Finally, the oeuvre of Ray Kappe (born 1927) spans an arc through to the present. His specific Californian homes are airy wooden frame works, between which, generous spaces and flowing transitions develop, connecting inside and outside. His homes are genuine tree houses that seem to equally echo Neutra’s formal severity and Schindler’s open-air homes. However, what is more important for us is that Kappe successfully integrated the qualities of his upper-class homes into an affordable prefabricated program. The private institute that he founded in 1972, the Southern California Institute of Archi tecture (SCI-Arc), is currently one of the top architectural schools in the U.S. Our project is based on an unusually intense collaboration be tween an architectural photographer and an architectural historian. For us, important in this was the parallel nature of the spatial and temporal perception of the individual homes: the photos were taken simultaneous to our conversations with the residents—together, they form the basis for this book. Since we visited the houses at a certain historical moment — June 2017—and tried to capture them with various means, our con cern was, no least, to shift both their historical and current realities to the forefront. With the exceedingly photogenic architecture of classical modernism, and the images of which that have long settled like an opaque film over built reality, the issue of substantial changes over the course of decades of use is particularly volatile and can only be answered with the support of a media-critical gaze. The confron tation with a structure’s ties to a specific time provides information
San Diego Freeway, Brentwood and Bel Air, Los Angeles Los Angeles River, Atwater Village, Los Angeles
in a nearly biographical way about the individual “sensibilities” of the house and the relationship of the original design, completion, and the constants and variables of the building since its completion. The states of the houses presented here range from existing buildings that have been preserved to reconstructions of the origi nal state through to continued construction. At the same time, many modern homes in Los Angeles and in California are in a thoroughly precarious situation, because they seem to offer too little space for today’s often inflated living demands, and at the same time, occupy properties whose values have risen sharply over the past several decades in the wake of gentrification. A monument protection act, as is common in Europe, does not exist: buildings can only be protected on the initiative of the owner. Demolition and new con struction are the usual consequences. We would like to counter this anti-resource-saving process with the examples of different approaches that we’ve selected, which could ultimately lead to the preservation of valuable building stock. We consider these houses precious and inhabitable repositories of knowledge of a building culture of the past, but also the future. Here is where the topicality of “Los Angeles modernism” can be found; not in an attitude fashionable at the moment. Many of the houses gathered in this book have already been documented in photos; however, professional photos of several have not yet been published. With our focus on chosen, exemplary houses of California modernism, we want to establish a new gaze that can be described as anti-monumental: not the one aesthetically pure and “complete” form, but rather, the fragment; not the perfect surface, but its scratches; not the sublime artwork, but the quotidian, yet none theless highly valuable use object—home.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Richard Neutra Ohara House Silver Lake Los Angeles 1961
Rather than an idyllic lake, Silver Lake is a concrete- lined water reservoir surrounded by a high fence that was built in the middle of a rolling landscape north of downtown Los Angeles. And its name doesn’t refer to its silver shimmering surface, but instead, city councilor Herman Silver, president of the City Water Commission. Further growth of the city, whose population tripled between 1900 and 1910 to 300,000 inhabitants, was based on an im peccably functioning water supply. In 1959, when Richard Neutra designed the Ohara House, Los Angeles already had 2.4 million inhabitants and the neighborhood around the reservoir, also called Silver Lake, had become a desirable residential ar ea for artists and intellectuals. In the immediate surroundings of his own home on the eastern shore of the reservoir (see p. 186), a colony of no less than nine houses by the architect arose be tween 1948 and 1961 on properties that Neutra sold to his clients, thus documenting both the aes thetic consistency and logics as well as the formal range of his mature creative phase (see p. 176). Hitoshi and June Ohara were the descendants of Japanese immigrants. Neutra’s understanding of architecture and residential life had been deci sively influenced by an early stay in Japan, and apparently, he particularly valued the collabora tion with these clients. The house, located on a slope, is flanked by two other Neutra structures, the Flavin House and the Akai House, and has two entrances: one from the “show side” of Silver Lake, and the other via an access road, which also serves other houses in the colony. A graded archi tectural landscape develops from the garage at the highest point of the property, running via the inner courtyard to the actual residential wing, which was originally supplemented with a Japa nese rock garden in front of the house. In the view from Silver Lake, the strict geometry of wooden beams and glass surfaces generates an intense play of spatial levels, contrasting the shaded bal conies, with the roof projecting far over the master bedroom. The living space comprises the center of the house and is opened as greatly as possible to the outside and expanded by glass walls. Sliding windows create a connection to the loggia, whose awning provides a textile wall layer, thereby mak ing it one area of the living space where it is pos sible to shield the view from the street. Opening on the other side of the space is a small inner court yard that is connected with the kitchen and the dining area in front of it.
The designer David Netto and his family currently live in the house. For him, “This building is the work of art. It’s the only thing to look at. And it’s a ma chine for experiencing atmosphere because of the way it admits and manipulates light.” The house’s limited living spaces teach one to do without and reduce to what is essential, although they also force even connoisseurs of this architecture to go in search of living quarters with more private spac es at some time when the children get older. Of great importance for Netto is the connection of the house with the site, the development of its structure from the terrain, and the organization of its viewing axes. Netto appreciates the decency and humility that distinguishes Neutra’s buildings from other modern structures. Contrary to what is suggested by the recurring constructions and design-based motifs, Neutra’s houses are in no way reproducible, but instead, as Netto sees them, tailor-made ob jects that are likewise inseparably bound to their designer, a genius of space and spatial awareness.
The living room is the center of the house and is also extremely permeable. Three large glass walls offer different views and provide flowing transitions between inside and outside. This translucid openness is contrasted by the solid brick wall of the chimney whose quasi autonomous volume develops a powerful presence, thus making it—in keeping with Neutra—the mythical “hearth” of the home.
The compact house is in vested with extreme spatial economy. For an optimal us age of the available space, built-in furniture is essential —not only in the kitchen. Both the children’s bedroom as well as the kitchen face a small strip of green to the south. The view through the window into the thicket of hedges expands the interior and com pensates for its minimal size. The vegetation in the front protects the house from direct sunlight.
Although the fronts toward the narrow courtyards can claim only a secondary status as compared with the street and garden sides, they are designed with the same care. Rather than consisting of in dividual façades, the house develops spatially. In this way, intimate zones form around the building volume, each with its own qualities.
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