A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an amazing art exhibition in peculiar venue: the Richard Neutra VDL House. As usual, I decided to investigate a bit more about this icon of mid century modern architecture and the interesting evolution of its project.
The construction of the VDL houses -yes are two- covers a period of almost thirty years(1932-1965) when Neutra also became internationally known for his works defining the so called mid century modern architecture Californian style.
This house -that can accomodate two families and an office on a 60×70 foot area- represents the architect’s answer to several mid century modern dwelling issues: how to increase a city’s urban density, how to smoothly accommodate a house and a office in the same space and how to improve the living space quality for a family simply bonding with the natural landscape surrounding the house itself.
Far from any typical ‘house’ scheme, the VDL Research Houses stood out for being a clear homage to the European mid century modern architecture. The project took its name by the former Neutra’s patron the industrialist millionaire Cornelius Van der Leeuw that -after a visit to Neutra in Los Angeles- decided to loan Neutra $3.000 to start building his own house and leave the ‘inappropriate’ bungalow in Echo Park where he was living with his family at that time.
Neutra made the whole house H-shaped. The main building and guesthouse -completed by 1939- are linked by a ‘bridge’ of service and bed-rooms for the architect’s sons.
To guarantee a visual connection with the outside -a prerogative of all the most famous mid century modern houses- the entire west part of the guesthouse opens to the outside.
To also obtain a smooth transition from the street to the private space, Neutra used a bridge at the end of which two doors reveal the double soul of the building. A transparent door provides immediate access to the landscaped patio -and most private part of the house- while the other one brings to the office.
This detail shows the importance Neutra gave to flexible circulation and -as a consequence- to freedom for people of chose their own path.
Moreover, to make the maintainance as easy as possible, most of the furniture were built in -as the beds that could be rolled away from the wall- and followed rational principles for multiple uses as in the small kitchen, where metal lined drawers could be pulled from either the dining room or kitchen to deliver food in a more discreet way.
The need for comfort together with the desire of blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, inspired Neutra to find original solutions -later became mid century modern architecture trademarks- as to “stretch” space wherever possible creating the psychological illusion of more space; as the big mirror placed in the tiny entry-way to visually double it.
With the VDL Neutra also introduced something that later became one of his personal marks. Exterior lights above translucent glazed soffit strips at the edge of the overhang. The light extended living space at night but also reflected off the glass, providing a “curtain” effect of privacy.
One of the most recognizable element of this house is the wooden rooftop solarium -added in 1955- that goes south creating an elongated pergola and provides an opportunity to be outdoors while being private.
A fire destroyed most of the original house -VDL I- in 1963. Luckily, the lower level garage, darkroom, bedroom-study, storage, and prefabricated concrete rafters survive. Following the destruction of the VDL I Richard Neutra and his architect son Dion, built the VDL II on the blueprint of the original project.
You can read even more info about this project on its official website.
Most of the pics in this post are from the stunning Julius Shulman, Modernism Rediscovered a -cheap- must have if you love mid century modern architecture and photography. Check it now!
I hope you enjoyed the story of the Neutra VDL House, if so….feel free to SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS ICON OF MID CENTURY MODERN ARCHITECTURE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!