Saturday, April 18, 2015

Neutra's VDL Research House II

VDL Research House & Studio
I should have thanked both the turtledoves and that woman for being positioned exactly where I wanted them for this photo. This is a view of Neutra's garden studio, from 1940, situated in the rear of the courtyard. It's the only surviving structure from the 1963 fire that destroyed the rest of the house. Photo ©Darren Bradley
One of the best things about Los Angeles is that there are so many modernist homes there.  And even better than that, there are even a few you can visit. Neutra's VDL Research House in Silver Lake is one of the best examples. 

neutra exterior
Neutra's VDL Research House II. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The VDL Research House II was the home of architect Richard Neutra. It's called "2" because it replaced the earlier 1932 VDL Research House that Neutra built. The original house was a simpler design, with fewer materials. It was built thanks to a no-interest loan by a wealthy Dutch industrialist named Cees H. Van der Leeuw (hence the VDL name). 
Here are a few images of original VDL Research House I... 

VDL research house 1
Original VDL Research House, built in 1932 on the shores of Silver Lake Reservoir. 

VDL research house 1
Another view of the original VDL Research House, in 1932. Note how close it was to Silver Lake reservoir at the time. You could never get a shot of the house with its reflection in the water now. And that's not because the house moved. VDL II is in the same location. But the shore of the lake moved further away. This part of the reservoir was filled in due to problems with still water and algae blooms/odors in this part. Photo © Archives - Special Collections, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 

When it burned to the ground in 1963, all that remained was the garden pavilion and the basement foundation. Neutra, who was already 71 at the time of the fire, was devastated by its loss and initially did not want to rebuild. But encouraged by his son Dion, he soon agreed to do so. 

VDL Research House
Main private living area, on the second floor. Note the built-in furniture, which maximizes the efficiency of the space. The neutral earth tones emphasize the exterior and draw focus to the outdoors. Those boomerang chairs are also a Neutra design, but weren't actually the type of chairs used in this space while Neutra was alive. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The new VDL Research House II was designed by both Richard and his son Dion, using the existing slab and footprint from the original home. It was largely built by Dion, while Richard was away in Europe. 

VDL Research House & Studio
Another built-in sofa in the alcove off the living area. Photo ©Darren Bradley

When Richard returned and saw the nearly completed house, his remark to his son was that there were too many materials used. And indeed, some criticized the new house as having lost some of the clarity and simplicity of the original design. 

View of the small rear courtyard, looking into entry foyer of the main house. Note the use of all the different materials - stucco, stone, aluminum, concrete, glass... Neutra was said to be critical of Dion's use of too many materials in building VDL 2, although are common to Neutra's palette in his own work. Photo ©Darren Bradley
But it was also widely praised for its light, open design that embraced the surrounding environment, and innovations like sun louvers and water pools on the roof to help with cooling. 

It's hard to imagine a 74-year old man today hanging out on cushions sitting on the floor. I wonder if he was able to get up by himself after. I have a hard enough time, myself, and I'm 43. But here's Richard Neutra doing just that, on the roof of his VDL Research House II in 1966. It's hard to imagine a Of course, that roof pool eventually leaked and caused extensive water damage to the house. It's now only filled on special occasions, and is gravel most of the time.
Photo by Julius Shulman, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute. 

VDL Research House
Here's essentially the same view today. Looks like the mirror on the interior wall wasn't there at the time. I wish they'd get rid of that table and chairs (and that planter), and put the cushions and low table back. If Neutra was willing to suffer for his architecture, so should you, dammit. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And indeed, the house does feel almost lighter than air, as if it's resting delicately on its site. This is due to some subtle but important changes, such the extensive use of glass walls, and the additional of the aforementioned rooftop pavilion. 

neutra vdl penthouse pavilion
This glass rooftop pavilion is accessed via a narrow staircase and a trap door on the left here. Great views out to Silver Lake Reservoir. The gravel seen outside is where the rooftop pool used to be. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Also, the staircases are a key feature. They were originally solid steps, in narrow, dark stairwells for VDL 1. But in VDL 2, they became thin metal steps that appear to float. 

neutra vdl stairs
Narrow staircase leading up to the penthouse glass pavilion, which is accessible through a trapdoor in the floor. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The house is beautiful and extremely well designed, but still very modest by today's standards. It's interesting to see that Neutra practiced the minimalism he preached, and lived in this tiny, but well lit bedroom. 

neutra bedroom
Not even a nightstand! I understand that Neutra would sometimes work from his bed all day, using the command center on the wall, which had a telephone and interphone system. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Neutra lived in the house with his wife, Dionne, until he died in 1970. His widow continued to live in the house and eventually left it to Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design. It's open to the  public most Saturdays, and staffed by friendly architecture students at Cal Poly, who offer tours. 

Friendly Cal Poly Pomona architecture students volunteering their time at the house for school credits. Photo ©Darren Bradley

VDL Research House
Neutra's VDL Research House II. Photo ©Darren Bradley

And when you're in the area, be sure to walk or drive by the many other Neutra-designed houses in the area, which form a veritable colony. There's even a street named Neutra Place! 

Ohara Residence on Neutra Place (1961). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Yew House
Yew Residence (1957) in the Neutra Colony in Silver Lake. Photo ©Darren Bradley


Gennie said...

It's looking just amazing furniture style,
dining room tables benches

Unknown said...

Great post!!