“Build the Past Today” crows the brochure for a new licensing project for architect Richard Neutra’s mid-century modernist house designs. Announced earlier this week, it’s an intriguing approach to commercially continuing Neutra’s vision in new construction.
The pitch continues, “no longer are the architectural plans of mid-century master Richard Neutra merely curatorial elements of an architectural exhibition. Now, courtesy of a new partnership between Dion Neutra (Richard’s long-time partner in the Neutra Office), California Architecture Conservancy (CAC) and the Neutra Office, those plans can serve as the basis for your new home.”
Dion Neutra is actually also Richard Neutra’s son, and as the announcement continues: “for the price of what one would customarily pay for an architect to design and render supervising architectural services, you can build one of the mid-century modernist master’s works of art and have Dion Neutra and the Neutra Office supervise the construction.” While you could build a Neutra-inspired home whenever you want, this new licensing approach is much different than just a tribute. Some of the designs they’re offering weren’t even built by Neutra himself.
It’s not unheard of to reconstruct an architect’s designs long after they’re dead, such as with Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, opened only last year, or Florida Southern College’s current construction of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “usonian” house that was planned during the architect’s work at the college, but never built.
However, while those are all fulfilling the unrealized plans of the architects, it’s hard to say whether Neutra would want his Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, which was built to so carefully respond and contrast to its desert setting, to be cloned in, say, the suburbs of Houston. The particular needs and environment of the clients he worked with were always a major focus of his airy glass-and-steel designs, and mass production (perhaps an exaggeration, but possible if the billionaires of the world really jump on the opportunity) seems to go contrary to this ethos.
Nevertheless, Neutra, as all architects, definitely wanted his work experienced, and as we’ve recently seen the demolition of his Maslon House in 2002 and his Gettysburg Cyclorama this year, there’s something encouragingly phoenix-like about commercially reenergizing his past works, backhandedly described in the Agency brochure as “merely elements of an architectural exhibition.”
As Curbed notes, Neutra’s houses have been selling wildly on the market this year, so there’s still extensive commercial interest in his architecture, decades after the mid-century focus on applying the prefabricated to a modernist aesthetic has faded. The construction of more of his geometric, intelligently proportioned homes with these original plans could even influence a wider renewed interest in revisiting the sleek, personal approach that have kept Neutra’s designs so in demand, and may make them even more visible on our residential landscape.