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LottaLiving.com • Neutra VDL
Page 1 of 2

Neutra VDL

Posted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:07 pm
by scottkaycee
In college I was a Neutra VDL house intern and worked on several "preservative" measures. I say that because Cal Poly never has had the resources to restore the house so the goal was allegedly to halt or atleast slow the deterioration. The house was always an experiment, in materials in planning and I remember that stone wall in the rear patio/courtyard. It is a miniaturized version of the stonework used at Neutra's Garden Grove Community Church (impecably maintained by Rev. Shuller ala the Crystal Cathedral). The interesting Neutra aspect about the stone work is the vertical coursing, which at first might seem disconcerting but when you think about is reprresentative of his genius. Neutra was often critisized for "decorative" effects that communicated an idea as oposed to honest reflection of reality. Silver painted wood to represent steel frame, etc. The introduction of stonework to "warm" the austere minimalist aesthetic, if you conventionally horizontally stack the stone, which he often did you communicate the load bearing qualities of the masonry, which is "dishonest", by using a vertical coursing you intuitively know that the stone is non structural, and so the reason for having the stone becomes for texture, warmth, etc. and is no longer "dishonest" I participated in a class which built the large wooden model of the house that is usually on display, and I remember students having a hard time finding a material to mimic that stonework, in the end they rejected all wood veneers commercially available and ended up carving the panel out of piece of wood.

As to the rather unattractive neighbor; Neutra had a large vine trained to obscure the view of the said offending neighbor, the last time I was there there was a large two story high pergola on which the vine was trained. At some point the neighbor cut the plant down and so all that is left is this jungle Gym contraption with fragments of the vine on it, the vine must of been like 50 years old, a real tragedy.

The VDL house is so unusual in the work of Neutra because of it's highly Urban quality, even in comparison to the nearby Neutra colony, there is a density to it that is in stark contrast. It is probably also because of the mixed use nature of the studio, and the various residence/ apartments worked into the design.

I love the house and have always felt privilidged to work on it and to spend so much time there. I have blabed on far to long for that I apologize.

Posted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:09 pm
by scottkaycee
This was suposed to be in reply to the MODCOM 20th thread, I dont know how I got it to be a new thread, as a new thread if anyone is even interested it should be in residential, I hope the moderators can fix this liitle mess.

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 8:06 am
by L.A.kevin
Hi Scott,

I've been volunteering for about a year now at the VDL to repair and/or at least safe the wiring. It is a rat's nest of complication, wire nuts, burnt and crumbling cloth insulation, spiderwebs, and substandard hamhandedry.

The house is an amazing place. It's one of those interesting places that doesn't really grab you until you've visited there several times and have seen it from different angles. To me, the use of space in such an efficient logical way that feels much bigger than its actual confines is the most intriguing thing.

One of the tragedies of the structure is the choice of roofing materials. Using tarpaper and coal tar pitch to hold standing water is a no-no.

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 8:40 am
by scottkaycee
How did you get involved with the house L.A.Kevin?

I remember the roof always had problems, there is no pitch whatsoever and there was only one drain. They only filled it for special events, were they filled for the Modcom event?

The house definitely merits repeat visits and it gets bettter with each one. I think one of the shockers for the first time visitor is the confusion at it not being easy to figure out right away. What I mean is that most modern buildings on these sorts of tours are either single family homes or commercial buildings, and of course the VDL is mixed use , so as you enter you might expect to be in the living room, it doesnt fall into Neutra's usual mode. I always was suprised that most of his designs were sparawling ranch like plans , very rarely did they ever explore the second story. I suspect this was more a programmatic thing. At Sileverlake being his own client you can see a more experimental side.

In school we would do the whole Schindler/ Neutra debate I never felt you had to pick one over the other but some people take the Lovell commision so seriously (Whether Neutra might have stolen the Los Feliz commission from Schindler who had done two designs for the Lovells) That to like one must exclude the other. The big differentiate between their work was the section. Schindler architecture is always articulated in plan and section(exaggerated roof forms,double height spaces, clerestory windows, etc.), whereas Neutra is usually only articulated in plan(Neutra houses are usually unified by the broad horizontal roof plane). This distinction supposedly made Schindler the superior talent (that's debatable I think) What is interesting is at the VDL you get that sense of a vertical aspect of the work, again being somewhat unique to Neutra's work.

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 10:04 am
by L.A.kevin
I just scheduled a private tour because I was interested in the work of Neutra. I ended up mentioning to Ken McCown, the current live-in curator, that I was an engineer, and could troubleshoot electrical work. I started coming over on the weekends and fixing little bits here and there. It really needs some carpentry and re-work of some of the electrical runs, especially the studio addition.

Neutra

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:09 pm
by SDR

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:12 pm
by L.A.kevin

typography

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:14 pm
by SDR

Books

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:28 pm
by SDR

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:30 pm
by L.A.kevin

Mid Century Book finds

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:43 pm
by scottkaycee

Neutra descriptions

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:52 pm
by scottkaycee

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 2:27 pm
by KevInBoots

"Section"

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 3:09 pm
by scottkaycee

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 3:39 pm
by L.A.kevin

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 4:01 pm
by KevInBoots

Neutra/Schindler

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 4:18 pm
by scottkaycee

"Differentiate"

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 4:29 pm
by scottkaycee

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 5:03 pm
by SDR

Schindler

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 6:07 pm
by scottkaycee
Well put SDR! The Schindler frame!, his clients often had more taste than money, so i'm sure there were some cost savings acting as his own contractor. Speaking to an earlier post, while it's true that Neutra wrote more, Schindler did try to articulate his "Space Architecture" in trade journals If I recall correctly. He simply moved beyond what his contemporaries were doing and in effect became un publishable. The Architectural community caught up with him in the 1990's. It's sort of ironic that now he is revered as more of a genius today than he was when he was alive, and is more published today than Neutra. (With the exception of the fantastic Taschen monograph) Neutra in his own lifetime was huge, I mean he was on the cover of Time Magazine with the Kaufman House. Something Frank Lloyd Wright did with his Kaufman House too.

Schindler redux

Posted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:16 pm
by SDR
A book that appeared in 1990 and helped feed the growing interest of Mid-Century Modernism was "Arts & Architecture, the Entenza Years,"
which reprinted selected material from the magazine, circa 1943-1959.
There are two Schindler entries: "A Prefabrication Vocabulary" (1943) and
an obituary by Esther McCoy in the form of rememberances by fourteen
men, mostly architects, in 1954, which shows a gratifying degree of
sympathy by his peers, for someone who seems to have been forgotten almost immediately, as you say. (The prefabrication article -- 3 pages --
is reduced to 25% so is almost illegible, but as usual he makes the problem his own and provides a logical compromise solution with room for architectural expression and "space architecture" -- I will transcribe for those interested, on request.)

SDR

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 7:34 am
by L.A.kevin
You know, Scott and SDR, I've heard people say that some of the postmodernists like Gehry owe a debt to Schindler, or as you say, Scott, that the architectural world caught up to him. However, I'd like to point out that postmodernism is much more of a 'style' than a system like what Schindler was doing. What I mean to say is, that Gehry seems to be just tossing off interesting forms for the sake of it. The California by way of Vienna modernists were never guilty of that. I don't think Schindler and especially Neutra did anything without an underlying functional intent to it.

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:03 am
by Joe
great thread, folks. Thanks for sharing.

Post Modernism

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:16 am
by scottkaycee
Oh you are absolutely right, I merely meant that nothing came close in a purely visual sense to what he was doing until the 90's. While it's true that Gehry is really more of a sculptor, there are architects like Frank Israel and Michael Rotondi who picked up the Schindler baton, there work was not neccesary gimmick for gimmick sake.

There is a fundamental difference between early to mid 2oth century modernism and the sort of thing usually being done today. While they may share forms, and in current Architectural circles the sort of straight line aesthetic is the same; the philosophical underpinings are completely different.

My take is that the Mid centurists saw themselves as problem solvers, nearly every device was in response to specific programmatic issues, the unifying element was this committment to progress and technology as a positive force, hence the use of steel, glass, new materials, etc. The present generation having grown out of Post Modrnism saw the primary driving force behind their work not a problen solving approach but an "artisitic" reflection of the larger cultural forces at work, strange coliding shapes to reflect the so called "turbulent" times in which we live, etc. Modernism(in it's historical sense) might be quoted for the associations it has , if this sounds like a jumbled mess it really is, it is what I see as the corruption of an otherwise inspiring movement. So you are absolutely right when you say that they never really caught up to Schindler.

I think part of the reason that Mid-century modernism is so appealing to a younger set is because we long for a connection to an optimistic future. We didnt grow up in the shadow of the Vietnam war, We saw the Cold War end and have enjoyed the fruits of the technological revolution, we don't need to embrace the jaded pessimistic view that there is nothing to look forward to. We grew up on Tommorowland and that sense of progress as a positive force. I think it is what makes Modernism so appealing. This is not really a new trend in history, Heroic Modernism had it's time in the sun, and the days of the one true style are over, but now we can pick and choose from the best it had to offer and move forward. As much as it might make a true modernist cringe its sort of like "Mid-20th Century Modern revival"

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:23 am
by L.A.kevin
BTW, Scott and SDR, thanks for the tip on the Scheine book. I've been thinking of getting that one for awhile now. You've pushed me over the edge.

After having Barbara Lamprecht's big Taschen book on Neutra, it's hard to really appreciate any other architecture book. She really raised the bar. Just hope the Scheine book is half as good.

I've got the Smith/Darling book, and that's a muddle. I've read the Gebhard books, but feel both he and McCoy reach a little to try and break up his work into "periods" while ignoring works that don't fit their preconceived notions about what period he was in during any particular moment.

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:38 am
by SDR
Frank Gehry seems to be that rare bird, an unabashed architectural sculptor, mking use of the new technology to get his fantasies drawn and
built -- has anyone here seen the Disney concert hall? How would you compare it to Raphael Moneo's new Cathedral nearby? I wonder if we'll see Gehry do a residence in his new idiom?

[BTW, this is the only site I've posted on that allows one to review the
previous posts while composing a reply -- thanks to the designer (M-M?
Joe?) for that!]

There have been some pretty involved discussions of design authorship
and originality issues on the DesignAddict site (rather an international bunch -- England, Australia, as well as Chicago?) -- there's an excellent
essay by a Jan Michl on this subject, and LOTS of furniture threads.

Yeah, we're really cooking over here! Hope to hear more. . . SDR

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:50 am
by Joe
scottkaycee: "There is a fundamental difference between early to mid 2oth century modernism and the sort of thing usually being done today. While they may share forms, and in current Architectural circles the sort of straight line aesthetic is the same; the philosophical underpinings are completely different."

>> I completely agree. You just said what I have been trying to put into words for sometime now.

LAkevin: "After having Barbara Lamprecht's big Taschen book on Neutra, it's hard to really appreciate any other architecture book."

>> It's also hard to really shelve any other architecture book!

SDR: thank the software makers phpbb

RMS

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 10:37 am
by SDR
Actually there are two books, the big Academy Editions (1993) and the
small paperback GG (1998), both titled "R. M. Schindler," both by or edited by Judith Scheine and both worth the trip, picking up where Esther McCoy and David Gebhard left off. Each author has something worthwhile to add to the mix, and if you're really into it, I'd say "take the plunge" (if your
Visa card can take the hit!) I guess I don't know Smith-Darling -- tell me.

Scott, I think that's it -- we have to say that we're in a stylistic revival and
live with what that may mean -- but I don't think that has to be apologized
for: the work the pioneers did, their fresh solutions, with new materials
and techniques, to solve the new problems, isn't something that can be or needs to be repeated -- but (in my opinion) architects -- and society at large -- finally have a "style" we don't have to apologize for. Whether this
means that those working in the Modernist vein now can't claim the same
philosophical meaning for their work might be debated, but what you say is true, I think, that now, because of all that has gone before and because of all the choices now available, designers can 'legitimately' work in any of
several different modes, from strict, canonic Mies van der Rohe to woodsy
Bay Area Tradition to Wrightian Organic. . .there is a sense in which time
has slowed down, in the world we're speaking of, contrary to the general
trend of accelerating change, allowing a pause for reflection. And there is
a LOT of very good, fresh architecture appearing now, all over the globe
(see the Architectural Review, GA and other international publications).

Frank Isreal was doing beautiful work before we lost him. . .

Love SDR

extra Schindler

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 11:44 am
by SDR
L.A.kev -- Oops, one more Schindler, the James Steel/Taschen (1999)
which has the only shots I've seen ot the amazing articulated wood ceilings
(and big color photos, too) in the Bubeshko apartment building (2036
Griffith Park Blvd).

SDR

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 12:06 pm
by L.A.kevin
Thanks... BTW, the Bubeshko was for sale recently, and I got to meet the realtor. I was just driving by on the way to an errand. Took a peek inside. I think both buildings are going for 1.5 mil. Kinda funny since it was built as a budget apartment building.

I'm lucky to be living in a place like LA where this stuff is everywhere... for now.