Richard J. Neutra 1892 - 1970

Born and raised in Vienna, a melting pot of modernity at the turn of the century when art, architecture, music and language were called into question and re-interpreted. Neutra’s closest friend was called Ernst and he was the son of Sigmund Freud. Richard J. Neutra’s life’s work was profoundly influenced by his formative years in Vienna

Architectural studies

Richard J. Neutra studied architecture at the Vienna University of Technology. The city of Vienna of Richard Neutra’s student days at the beginning of the 20th century was marked by Otto Wagner’s buildings. Neutra was a disciple of this important Jugendstil architect.

Shaped by Adolf Loos

As part of his architectural studies Neutra also attended Adolf Loos’s private school of architecture in Vienna; Neutra was influenced by Loos’s straightforward, unadorned Modernism of which he was a pioneer. His most famous written work is a lecture entitled “Ornament and Crime” (1908). Villa Müller, built in Prague in 1930, is archetypal of Loos’s modernist work.

© Albertina, www.albertina.at

Interconnectedness with nature

Richard J. Neutra: “It was Gustav Ammann whom I have to thank for my appreciation that the origin of architecture is always closely connected to nature and the surrounding landscape.”

Architecture und landscape

In 1919 Neutra spent some formative time with the important Swiss garden and landscape architecture, Gustav Ammann. Ammann’s architectural garden designs embrace the surrounding area and by use of visual axes he allowed a complete work of art to emerge. The link with nature, central to Neutra’s architecture, and his idea that there must be “an inherent and inseparable relationship between man and nature” - formulated later on as “bio-realism” - are testimony to the influence of Ammann.
(Source: GTA Verlag ETH Zürich)

Berlin Modernism

At the start of 1921 Neutra became a city planner in Luckenwalde in south-west Berlin. Here he came into contact with the great Expressionist, Erich Mendelsohn, the most successful architect in Germany in the interwar period. Neutra, as a member of his staff, was able to prepare drawings and models for the notable Friedrich Steinberg hat factory and also worked on the Einstein Tower project in Potsdam. Mendelsohn’s experimentation with reinforced concrete, a new building material at the time, opened up for Neutra new and alternative options in architectural design.

The New World

In 1923 Neutra went to the USA where he became acquainted with the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of Chicago and from time to time worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in Taliesin/Wisconsin. He moved in 1925 to the West Coast to Los Angeles, where initially he ran an office together with architect Rudolf Schindler before opening his own architectural studio in 1927. After 1960 Neutra worked with his son, Dion. Active mostly in California, Neutra built villas, schools, office buildings and residential developments, all different but sharing a single concept: The integration of a building into nature.

Neutra in Europe

In the 1960s Richard J. Neutra designed a great many houses in Europe, commissioned primarily in Germany and Switzerland. Interest in Neutra’s work and ideas had long since reappeared in the Old World from California. Thus in 1964, Neutra’s Haus Rang, in Königstein im Taunus, carefully and organically integrated into its natural surroundings.

Return to Vienna

From 1966 - 1969 Richard J. Neutra and his wife Dione were once again in Vienna, the city of his birth. In 1969 they went back to Los Angeles.

Partner Dion Neutra

During Neutra’s time in Europe his son and architectural partner, Dion Neutra, ran their office in Los Angeles.

Lecture tour

In 1970, Neutra and his wife were again on a lecture tour in Europe. On April 16, Richard J. Neutra died of a heart attack in Wuppertal where he was working on the Kemper Haus, his very last project.


Neutra received a number of tributes posthumously, including that of the American Institute of Architecture. The Museum of Modern Art in New York honored him with a retrospective.

Richard J. Neutra

1892: Born April 8, in Vienna, Austria

1911 - 1918: Student at the Vienna Technical University

1912: At Adolf Loos’s private school of architecture, Vienna

1919: Landscape gardening training with Gustav Ammann, Zurich

1920 - 1921: Work in Berlin and with the city of Luckenwalde building authority

1921 - 1923: Works for Erich Mendelsohn, Berlin

1922: Marriage to Dione Niedermann; three children: Frank Lloyd, Dion and Raymond

1923: Mendelsohn and Neutra win 1st prize in the competition for a shopping center in Haifa

1923: Move to the United States of America

1923 - 1924: Works with W. Holabird and M. Roche, Chicago

1924 - 1925: Works with Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin

1925 - 1927: Architect‘s office with Rudolf Michael Schindler, Los Angeles

1927 - 1970: Neutra starts his own studio, largely designing bungalows in California, but also residential developments, schools, churches and hospitals, and furniture

1929: Richard Neutra becomes an American citizen

1930: Study trip to Asia and Europe, including the Bauhaus in Dessau

1932: Participation in the legendary “International Style” exhibition by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), New York

1947: Design for the renowned Kaufmann House (Desert House) in California

1948: Design for the Warren Tremaine House in California

1954: Publication of his theoretical philosophy of architecture “Survival Through Design” (“Wenn wir weiterleben wollen”)

1960-1963: Plans for the Quickborn and Walldorf residential developments in Germany, commissioned by the Bewobau, Hamburg

1962: Neutra‘s biography “Life and Shape“ (“Auftrag für morgen”) appears

1966 - 1970: Works with son Dion in shared architect’s office

1970: On April 16 Neutra dies at Haus Kemper in Wuppertal

(Source: Richard J. Neutra Gesellschaft, www.neutra-gesellschaft.de)

Neutra’s Bio-realism

Neutra’s main architectural concept: the integration of man and his house into the natural world, the opening-up and interconnection of the interior and exterior – he dubbed this pioneering “green architecture” aspect of his work bio-realism. Neutra’s preoccupation with the interior design and furniture for houses designed by him must be seen as part of the holistic demands he made on architecture. Comfort was of enormous importance to him; people should feel good in their houses and with the furniture they have around them. For Neutra the client with his own specific needs was always all-important.

Richard J. Neutra:

“A properly designed house is not a static body but rather to some extent a mirror of the natural events happening around it, and thus always refreshing for the mind.”

The link to Loos

Neutra’s bio-realism reconnects with Loos’s preoccupation with empathy that he was familiar with as a young man in Vienna. Important for Adolf Loos were the close and sensorial aspects of the relationship between the spatial design and its effect on us.

Part of nature

Man is part of nature. Thus Neutra expects of his architecture that it embraces the surrounding landscape. Prospective building lots, for example, would be inspected at full moon to ensure best positioning and orientation not just in sunlight but also by moonlight. Building, furniture and landscape should coalesce into one holistically designed, harmonious living space.

Bio-realistic design

Neutras philosophy led him to what became for him typical design features: a terrace separated off from the interior by a sliding glass door allowing the relationship between inside and out to be blurred; by means of low sills or room-height glass walls the interior and exterior of a building is intimately interlinked. Neutra endeavored to blend the house with its grounds. And for this, for instance, he employed reflecting pools or his famous “spider legs”, roof overhangs and balconies that jut out beyond the outside walls.

“Moorings for the soul”

According to his bio-realistic understanding of architecture, houses for Neutra were “moorings for the soul” as he put it in his book “Auftrag für Morgen” (“Life and Shape”, New York 1962). The design should be modern but offer their owners recreation close to nature.

Richard J. Neutra:

“One needs to place man in a natural context, this is where he evolved and this is where he feels most at home.”

Neutra’s work

His houses flooded with light, Neutra shaped the scene of Californian Modernism. From there he rose to be an architectural icon of the “International Style”. Today Richard J. Neutra has long been seen as one of the great names in the history of modern architecture. Together with Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe he is one of the great pioneers of architecture and a trailblazer of Modernism.

Timeless avant-garde

His work is both avant-garde and timeless. From 1932 – 1970 Neutra carried out more than 200 projects – houses and villas, hospitals, schools, museums, high-rise buildings, churches, conference centers, market halls, embassies.

Lovell Health House, Los Angeles 1929

The planning and building of the Lovell Health House made Neutra known internationally. It was the first single-family house in the United States to have the steel skeleton structure he was familiar with from his time in Chicago. The building is adapted boldly to its surroundings; quite literally immersed in the green hills of Los Feliz in Los Angeles. Large areas of glass create a high degree of transparency and minimize the contrast between inside and outside. The house is also famous as the setting for numerous Hollywood productions, such as L.A. Confidential.

One of the most notable residential houses

The Lovell Health House town residence is recognized to be one of the most significant dwellings of the 20th century. The challenge lay not least in a very technologically demanding building lot – on a very steep hill in Los Angeles. A concrete walkway bridges the chasm between street and house entrance. The famous two-story, glazed stairway with Ford automobile headlights as lighting leads from street level (the level of the private rooms) downward – instead of the usual upward – to the “bel-étage”. Amongst other items, Neutra designed the armchair and sofa Alpha Seating for Lovell House as well as the Lovell Easy Chair – an armchair with a slim, dynamic steel frame that had the makings of a modern classic.

Neutra‘s design sketch

Richard J. Neutra‘s 1929 sketch for the Lovell Easy Chair can be found today in the archives of UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

International Style

At the historic 1932 “Modern Architecture” exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art, where his Lovell House design and other works were on show, Richard Neutra was the only architect representing the American West Coast. A new style was being celebrated there - the “International Style” - uniting modern European architects and those of the USA.

US Patent 1936

The Cantilever Chair was originally designed in 1929 for Lovell Health House. The distinctive steel spring ensures that seat mobility is separated from the backrest – a definite ergonomic advantage. Neutra filed a patent application for his Cantilever Chair.

VDL Research House, Los Angeles 1932

Neutra’s famous residence, VDL Research House, built in Silver Lake/Los Angeles. Neutra lived there with his wife until 1963 when the house was burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt by Richard and Dion Neutra.

Neutra in Los Angeles

In his own house in Los Angeles, Richard Neutra surrounded himself with furniture of his own design, such as the Cantilever Chair.

Corona School, Bell, California, 1935

The first of many schools designed by Neutra. He extended the Corona School and his unorthodox arrangement of the space there made him as famous as a schools architect as he was for designing villas and single-family houses. Neutra virtually revolutionized the building of schools in America. According to him schools should be single story; not only for the ease of ground-level entrances, but much more for their meaningful connection with nature and the opportunity to almost double the size of classrooms.

Source: WikiArchitectura

Nesbitt House, Los Angeles 1942

Neutra built a wooden house without casement windows for his friend, John Nesbitt, a popular figure in radio and TV. This was a departure from the norm in terms of the materials used and was on account of a wartime shortage of construction materials. He created a building that was closely connected to its natural surroundings with tangible and sophisticated rusticity and carefully planned views. For Nesbitt House Neutra designed the Boomerang Chair – one of his great furniture designs - as he did too for the Channel Heights development and Logar House, but in different versions.

National popularity

Neutra even presented his 1945 Boomerang Chair in the popular Women’s Day Magazine. He was celebrated there as “one of America’s leading interior architects”.

Channel Heights Projekt, Kalifornien, 1942

Neutra‘s plans for the layout of the Channel Heights residential development. For this project he designed plain and modern albeit practical furniture, e.g. the compact Channel Heights Stool made from oak that can also be used as a small side table.
Source: lamprecht archiTEXTural

Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, California, 1947

An icon of modern architecture: Neutra embedded this superb modern villa in the wild, primordial desert landscape around Palm Springs. The “Desert House” appears weightless. The supporting structure combining wood and steel is so skillfully designed that the number of supports (slim, in spite of the number) could be reduced to enhance the villa’s “floating” effect.

In the landscape

The four-wing arrangement of the house is perfectly integrated into the landscape. Neutra ensured all four sections could be lit and ventilated naturally. The living room is in the middle.

Tremaine House, Montecito, California, 1948

On account of the local high risk of forest fires Neutra designed this house with a purely reinforced concrete structure. He used rough natural stone for the walls, the terrazzo flooring continues from indoors to the exterior area. The inside spaces flow smoothly one into the other and can be easily modified with sliding walls. Neutra designed the Tremaine Side Chair for the house – a chair that embodies the lifestyle of the early 1950s.

Logar House, Granada Hills, 1951

Neutra’s famous Camel Table was designed for this house. The steel legs can be folded up (much like a camel when sitting down), resulting in a low-height side table. Thus the Camel Table converts from dining to low side table.

Time Title

In a 1949 title story Time Magazine paid tribute to Neutra as a significant representative of the “International Style”.

Haus Rang, Königstein im Taunus, 1964

Neutra‘s first house in Europe, constructed 1962-64. By the beginning of the 1960s Neutra had already “arrived” in Europe. Professor Martin Rang, director of education at the University of Frankfurt approached Neutra personally with his project. The building lot with trees and woodland provided the perfect framework for embedding a single-story house into its natural surroundings.

Haus Rentsch, Wengen, Switzerland, 1965

The high-alpine conditions of the building lot in Wengen in the Bernese Oberland with its spectacular views out over the Jungfrau Mountain provided Neutra with completely new and different challenges in comparison with sunny California.

Significant buildings by Richard J. Neutra

1927 - 1929: Planning and construction of the Lovell Health House, that made Neutra known internationally

1931: Building of his "Van-der-Leeuw-Research-House" (VDL) in Los Angeles

1935: Corona School, Bell, California

1940: Kahn House, San Francisco

1942: Branch House, Los Angeles Nesbitt House, Los Angeles Channel Heights residential development, San Pedro, California

1945 - 1948: Participation in John Entenza’s "Case Study House" program with Nr. 20 - "Bailey-House"

1947: Kaufmann House (Desert House), Palm Springs, California

1948: Tremaine House, Montecito, California

1950: Dion Neutra Reunion House, Los Angeles, California

1951: Logar House, Granada Hills, California

1960 - 1963: Planning of the Quickborn and Walldorf residential developments in Germany commissioned by the Bewobau GmbH, Hamburg

1960 - 1970: Other architectural activities in Europe (Germany), e.g. Haus Rang (1964) in Königstein, Haus Pescher (1968) and Haus Kemper (1965) in Wuppertal

1963: The VDL Research House was burnt to the ground. Rebuilt by Richard and Dion Neutra.

1963: Design Lincoln Memorial Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

1966: Haus Bucerius, Navegna, Switzerland VDL Research House II, Los Angeles

Neutra and VS

VS is internationally active as a manufacturer of schools and office furniture; the furniture is also sold in the USA. In Silverlake, Los Angeles, where Neutra once lived and designed some of his house, VS has its own showroom. From this connection arose VS’s first contact with Neutra’s son and architectural partner, Dion. He told us about Neutra’s furniture design sketches and was enthusiastic about “German engineering”. Dion Neutra was immediately impressed by the precision with which VS manufactures its furniture and with the durability of its quality products.

Recovering the treasure

Thomas Müller, executive director of VS, combed through Neutra’s estate at the University of California and recovered some treasure: drawings for 28 pieces of Neutra furniture. Many of these were designed as single pieces or small series for Neutra’s houses; some however had previously only been available in sketch form. In 2012 VS secured the licensing rights from Dion Neutra.

School history

When dealing with the history of VS and Neutra’s work, some similarities come to mind. Right into the 1930s VS was manufacturing furniture and teaching materials for Montessori schools and had begun to build free-standing school seating way back in the 1920s when other manufacturers were still making fixed school benches. In 1935, for the Corona School, one of his numerous school projects, Neutra included sketches for a number of modifiable items of furniture.

Collaboration with Dion Neutra

VS executive director, Thomas Müller and Dion Neutra were quick to agree that Richard Neutra’s furniture designs should be reissued, or even realized for the first time. It was, not least, the endurance of Neutra’s designs that convinced Müller straightaway.

Discovered as a furniture designer

Richard J. Neutra considered furniture an essential part of his firmly established modernist work. In the 1920s and on into the 40s he designed furniture as single items or small series for the owners of his villas and residential projects, and for his own personal use. Some of his designs existed until recently in sketch form only; others were only extant as single versions or had specifications matched specifically to particular projects.


Items of furniture from the Neutra Furniture Collection by VS are made individually by experienced craftsmen, a process in which only exceptionally fine materials are used and perfectly coordinated on the basis of a harmonious range of specifications. The result: top-quality, customized furniture. Just as Richard J. Neutra would have wished.

VS’s developmental strengths

Presumably, Dion Neutra, himself an architect like his father, was aware how much precision is needed to implement his father’s designs. How do you realize designs by someone who is no longer alive? Many of the measurements were missing, the designs only available in the form of sketches. A seat inclination that is one or two degrees out changes the appearance of a chair. So VS asked product designer Nicolai Fuhrmann to interpret the drawings. Dion Neutra came to Germany a number of times to inspect the prototypes, others were sent out to him in the States.

Passed the test

In the testing lab at VS we make sure that the armchairs, chairs and tables in the Neutra Furniture Collection by VS conform to all safety requirements. Neutra himself did not need to heed these standards because his furniture items were one-offs. The Camel Table presented a particular challenge. It converts from couch to dining table by swiveling the legs apart. Neutra designed the mechanism by observing a camel as he stood up. VS had to develop a quick-locking device to be used with one hand so that the table could be elegantly unfolded and be stable.

An exclusive manufactured collection

VS has held the exclusive rights to Neutra furniture since 2012. The items were analyzed by VS and documented in detail. Prototype development, testing and the choice of authentic materials took place in collaboration with Neutra’s son and architectural partner, Dion Neutra. The result is an exclusive collection, manufactured by VS in Germany.

Certificate of Authenticity

Every item in the Neutra Furniture Collection by VS is a quality individual piece. This is vouched for by its “Certificate of Authenticity”.

Exclusive foursome

Lovell Easy Chair, Cantilever Chair, Boomerang Chair and Organic Table from the Neutra Furniture Collection by VS.

In praise of craftsmanship

A doctrine of Loos’s: “A useful object may only be formed ‘out of the best materials’ and ‘only with the greatest care’”. To this Neutra remarked: “If I have to say what impressed me most about him then surely it would be his unshaken belief in durability compared to the continual comings and goings of fashion…Loos was full of admiration for craftsmanship”.

The quality of craftsmanship

About Tremaine House, Neutra remarked: “The aim here in furnishing the whole of the interior is durable craftsmanship quality rather than luxury.”

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