If you call the Neutra Studio in Los Angeles and get the answering machine, don't fret, and especially don't hang up. If you hold on and leave a long enough message, chances are, 89-year-old Dion Neutra will make it over in time to pick it up and say hello; he deliberately made the recording long enough to allow him to run over from the other room. Best known for working 30 years with his father, Richard Neutra, a central figure in the development and spread of modern architecture, until he passed away in 1970, Dion has carved out his own career and pursued his own passions since, which he's highlighting as part of Neutra Post Neutra, a new show opening July 11 at the Neutra Museum highlighting his solo career. Curbed spoke to Dion about working with his father, preserving the work they did together, and the lengths they would go to be site-specific with their designs (lifting curses, anyone?)
Preserving the Neutra Legacy is a Full-Time Job
"It just seems like an endless process. It's a full-time job keeping track of all the Neutra buildings we did together. Right now, the two important ones are the two Orange Coast College Buildings in Costa Mesa, where the board has threatening to tear them down to create an open green space in the middle of campus. The second is the Connell House in Pebble Beach, California. We don't really have any tools in our arsenal to stop this. We just have bully pulpits and publicity campaign. Every Western country except ours has a national policy about preservation. It's sad and pathetic and true. We watch these treasures be knocked down one by one."
Dad Wasn't Subtle About Joining the Family Business
"I started in the office at age 11. He asked, 'would you be interested in learning how to draft, it may be useful in your life.' That was his way of suggesting. It was pretty complimentary for a young kid. He assigned a draftsman to me, he got a board for me in the office and had a draftsman look over my shoulder and help me. I had never thought about what I wanted to do at that age, he just set me on that course. I say I officially started in 1940, and then working with him until he passed away in 1970. Together, we created hundreds of projects. We would take walks Sunday morning and he'd talk to me about what he was thinking, like a lecture to his colleague. He didn't take into account I was 12, and a lot of it went over my head. He didn't play games, he wasn't interested in sports, it was a very unique thing. We didn't build a tree house together or anything, but all the projects we worked on were like that, lots of interaction. He was a very passionate guy."
Some of His Favorite Designs Focused on Water
"Two projects I did after 1970 that I'm very proud are a residence I did in Tarzana that I finished in 1972, the Scheimer House, which had water flowing through the building, and the Huntington Beach Public Library (1975), where I used water as an excuse to take the outdoors in and also create enough noise where you wouldn't need to tell kids to be quiet just because they were entering a library. That's ridiculous. My designs, and our designs, were really about connecting man with nature."
Neutra Examined Every Aspect of a Site, Even Its Curse
"We don't take things lightly when we vet a site. For the Karachi Embassy in Pakistan, dad arrives on site and found that it was cursed, which explains why the land was so cheap. That's why the State Department bought that land. My dad, however, said, maybe we should look into this; maybe we can vindicate this curse. He found the source of the curse, went to a religious person in charge and asked to see if he could the curse removed. Nothing could be done; the guy said you build at your own risk. We told the State Department, and we went ahead. During the course of construction, one or two people died, and it was blamed on the curse."
People Always Ask About Unbuilt Neutra Designs
"People call all the time and ask, 'I'd love to build an unbuilt Neutra, that would be very romantic.' Well, my answer is, first, are you very wealthy? Number two, if you were doing this here, we'd have to change the building codes in California. And number three, they're are all designed with certain sites in mind."
Neutra Post Neutra will take place at the Neutra Museum (2379 Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles). The opening reception is Saturday, July 11th from 6 -10 p.m. and Dion will be on hand to sign copies of his books about the Neutra legacy. The Neutra Museum also plays host to an unusual Theater Piece, 'The Princes of Kings Road,' for 12 weekend performances starting in mid September (9/11 to 10/4). It depicts the last meeting of Neutra and Schindler after decades of no communication.
∙ Enjoy the Fantastic Ocean Views from Richard Neutra's Hees House, Asking $5.5M [Curbed LA]
∙ Happy Belated, Richard Neutra! (Someone Buy Pitcairn House) [Curbed Philadelphia]