Neutra, Richard J.: WIE BAUT AMERIKA? [Die Baubücher Band I]. Stuttgart: Verlag Julius Hoffmann, 1927.

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Richard J. Neutra

Richard J. Neutra: WIE BAUT AMERIKA? [Die Baubücher Band I]. Stuttgart: Verlag Julius Hoffmann, 1927. First edition [4,400 copies]. Text in German. Slim quarto. Embossed and printed thick wrappers. 78 pp. 105 black and white illustrations. Architectural historians’ bookplate to front endpaper.  Wrappers lightly worn with a split to spine crown and a chip to lower front corner. A very good or better copy of Richard Neutra’s first book.

9 x 11.5 softcover book with 78 pages and 105 black and white illustrations and photographs, many taken by Neutra while working on the Palmer House Hotel for Holabird and Roche. Includes work by R. M. Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Allow us to quote Thomas S. Hines from RICHARD NEUTRA AND THE SEARCH FOR MODERN ARCHITECTURE [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982] “[Neutra] had written the greater part of [Wie Baut Amerika?] in Chicago and Wisconsin and finished it at King’s Road. Roughly the first third dealt with the general problems and possibilities of American architecture and urban design—traffic and transportation, stations and terminals, zoning, the New York setback law, and various other environmental regulations. The second, central portion used the new Palmer House Hotel as a case study and examined in minute detail the progress of construction and the organization of the building and the building force. This section contained dozens of the construction photographs Neutra had taken while working on the job for Holabird and Roche. The last part of the book treated new building methods and materials not exemplified in the Palmer House. It featured smaller buildings and included Rudolf Schindler’s poured concrete Pueblo Ribera houses, La Jolla (1923), and Frank Lloyd Wright’s interlocking, prefabricated concrete-block Los Angeles houses of the early 1920s. Neutra reiterated the impact of Pueblo Indian forms on modern California design and cited Lloyd Wright’s Oasis Hotel, Palm Springs (1922), as an example of a structure in “sensitive conformity to the landscape.” The book was permeated with paeans to modernity, prefabrication, and interchangeability of parts, all symbolized for Neutra by Sweet’s Catalogue of building materials.

“The book as a whole was more descriptive and prescription, between what was and what ought to be. The book as a whole was more descriptive than interpretive, and its mountains of data were tediously formidable. Yet however commonplace his details of American building would seem half a century later, they were eagerly seized upon when the book was first published in January 1927 by the prestigious house of Julius Hoffmann of Stuttgart. Neutra had sent the completed manuscript to Dione’s parents and had deputized them to place it, negotiate with publishers, and handle all proofreading. The Niedermann’s sent it to a number of German presses and were delighted when Hoffmann accepted it, advertised it widely, and printed 4,400 copies. . . . The book sold briskly to a worldwide audience and elicited enthusiastic reviews—both in America and in Europe.

“One of the most favorable and significant reviews—in the obscure Los Angeles City Club Bulletin— was written by Pauline Schindler, who saw the book as “an interpretation of modernism and its expression in architecture . . . an affirmation and optimistic estimate of American civilization and architecture.” Pauline extrapolated the essence of Neutra’s message better perhaps than any other critic. This was no doubt due as much to their conversations at King’s Raod as to her reading of the book itself. She characterized succinctly much of the ideology of Neutra’s wing of the developing modern movement. “Building and city planning should not be concerned solely with the superficial decoration and ornamental beautifications,” she agreed. “Worn out symbols are discarded. Changing social and economic forces modify our manner of living. Growing industrialism and accumulating population demand housing reform for wage earners, adjustments of transportation and traffic . . .

“She found it exciting that, “in this age, decried as artistically arid, a new architectural style is soley taking form out of these problems, impelled partly by the force that shapes cities, partly by the congress of international inventiveness, usually termed the building supply market . . . . Development of the new style is characterized by an impersonal generality. It is being created not mainly by the professional architect, but by manufacturers of building materials and specialties . . . . These factors, catering to and controlling a nation-wide demand, necessitates mass production by extensive machinery, improving the output, raising standards, creating a new quality type of great vitality . . .

“By 1926, after long years of exploration, Neutra had begun to find and announce his ideals and goals. Now it remained to develop and realize them with actual buildings on actual landscapes.”

Richard Joseph Neutra (1892 – 1970)  was an Austrian-American architect whose building career in Southern California established him as one of the preeminent Modern Architects of the 20th century.

Neutra studied under Adolf Loos at the Vienna University of Technology (1910–1918) where he was a student of Max Fabiani and Karl Mayreder. In 1912 he undertook a study trip to Italy and Balkans with Ernst Ludwig Freud (son of Sigmund Freud). In June 1914, Neutra's studies were interrupted when he was ordered to Trebinje; he served as a lieutenant in the artillery in the Balkans until the end of the war. He took a leave in 1917 to return to the Technische Hochschule to take his final examinations.

After World War I Neutra went to Switzerland where he worked with the landscape architect Gustav Ammann. In 1921 he served briefly as city architect in the German town of Luckenwalde, and later in the same year he joined the office of Erich Mendelsohn in Berlin. Neutra contributed to the firm's competition entry for a new commercial centre for Haifa, Palestine (1922), and to the Zehlendorf housing project in Berlin (1923). He married Dione Niedermann, the daughter of an architect, in 1922. They had three sons, Frank L (1924–2008), Dion (1926–) an architect and his father's partner and Raymond Richard (1939–) a physician and environmental epidemiologist.

Neutra moved to the United States by 1923 and became a naturalized citizen in 1929. Neutra worked briefly for Frank Lloyd Wright before accepting an invitation from his close friend and university companion Rudolf Schindler to work and live communally in Schindler's Kings Road House in Los Angeles. Neutra’s first work in California was in landscape architecture, where he provided the design for the garden of Schindler’s beach house (1922–5), designed for Philip Lovell, Newport Beach, and for a pergola and wading pool for Wright and Schindler’s complex for Aline Barnsdall on Olive Hill (1925), Hollywood. Schindler and Neutra collaborated on an entry for the League of Nations Competition of 1926–7; in the same year they formed a firm with the planner Carol Aronovici (1881–1957) called the Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce (AGIC). He subsequently developed his own practice and went on to design numerous buildings embodying the International Style, twelve of which are designated as Historic Cultural Monuments (HCM), including the Lovell Health House (HCM #123; 1929) and the Richard and Dion Neutra VDL Research House (HCM #640; 1966). In California, he became celebrated for rigorously geometric but airy structures that symbolized a West Coast variation on the mid-century modern residence. Clients included Edgar J. Kaufmann, Galka Scheyer, and Walter Conrad Arensberg. In the early 1930s, Neutra's Los Angeles practice trained several young architects who went on to independent success, including Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris, and Raphael Soriano. In 1932, he tried to move to the Soviet Union, to help design workers' housing that could be easily constructed, as a means of helping with the housing shortage.

In 1932, Neutra was included in the seminal MoMA exhibition on modern architecture, curated by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock. In 1949 Neutra formed a partnership with Robert E. Alexander that lasted until 1958, which finally gave him the opportunity to design larger commercial and institutional buildings. In 1955, the United States Department of State commissioned Neutra to design a new embassy in Karachi. Neutra's appointment was part of an ambitious program of architectural commissions to renowned architects, which included embassies by Walter Gropius in Athens, Edward Durrell Stone in New Delhi, Marcel Breuer in The Hague, Josep Lluis Sert in Baghdad, and Eero Saarinen in London. In 1965 Neutra formed a partnership with his son Dion Neutra. Between 1960 and 1970, Neutra created eight villas in Europe, four in Switzerland, three in Germany, and one in France. Prominent clients in this period included Gerd Bucerius, publisher of Die Zeit, as well as figures from commerce and science.

He was famous for the attention he gave to defining the real needs of his clients, regardless of the size of the project, in contrast to other architects eager to impose their artistic vision on a client. Neutra sometimes used detailed questionnaires to discover his client's needs, much to their surprise. His domestic architecture was a blend of art, landscape, and practical comfort.

In a 1947 article for the Los Angeles Times, "The Changing House," Neutra emphasizes the "ready-for-anything" plan – stressing an open, multifunctional plan for living spaces that are flexible, adaptable and easily modified for any type of life or event. In 1977, he was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal, and in 2015 he was honored with a Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars in Palm Springs, California. [neutransp]