There are numerous buildings that I find inspiration in and admire. Selecting one and stating that it is my all-time favorite is impossible, there are too many. However, I thought it would be an interesting change of pace here on Architect’s Trace to offer up some architectural history and discuss one of my favorite single-family houses, The Lovell House.
More than half a century after its completion, The Lovell House in Los Angeles CA, 1927, designed by architect Richard Neutra, remains an icon of modern architecture. The Lovell House was without precedent. The historical value of the house resides in its adaptation of industrial materials for non-industrial use. The house was constructed of a steel frame (erected in 40 hours), concrete, glass, and metal panels; a construction system typically reserved for commercial applications. The house was the first American residence that was completely steel-framed. The steel frame of the house was the house; the house was the frame- both structurally and aesthetically it gave the house its meaning. The frame became the ‘soul’ of the house. One could make comparisons of the geometric asymmetrical facades of the Lovell House, with contemporary painters Mondrian and van Doesburg.
The Lovell House marked the beginning of an effort to integrate the innumerable products of American technology into a single frame of reference. This technological achievement was not however at the expense of the quality of the site, Neutra had a unique ability to harmoniously unite both machine construction and nature. The Lovell house proved that the modern house could be very hospitable and not entirely abstract; a great achievement for the proponents of the International Style. Neutra’s use of pre-fabricated materials and extensive incorporation of the outdoors was a novel idea at the time. With the completion of the Lovell House, a new era in the history of American architecture began. The void between architecture and engineering was closing. The house is a unique hybrid of the International Style of Central Europe, the Organic Style of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Neutra’s and his clients vision of a healthy and natural way of living.
In 1930 The Architectural Record published an article entitled ‘The Demonstration Health-House, Los Angeles: Richard J. Neutra, Architect.’ The title of the article is worth noting because the house is often referred to as the ‘Health-House’, rather than the Lovell House. This is an important notion because as technologically advanced as it was, the house also promoted healthier living. The client, Dr. Philip Lovell, was a vital figure in the conception of the house. Lovell was an advocate of forward-looking experiments. Lovell wanted to be the man who could see ‘health and future’ prosper within an appropriate architecture. Neutra had total freedom of design as long as he conformed to Dr. Lovell’s programmatic idiosyncrasies; open sleeping porches, private sunbathing areas, and special provisions in the kitchen and bath areas for dietary and therapeutic needs. Dr. Lovell had strong convictions towards healthier living and how the built environment can afford it and in turn these became the catalyst for the house.
Neutra had firm beliefs about modem life and architecture. He was concerned with ‘design’ in general, not just architecture. Neutra’s passion was to re-introduce man to his ‘natural’ existence by using America’s new technology in architecture and design. While during Neutra’s lifetime his beliefs were often viewed as radical and suspicious, today they are the foundation of design centered around its user, embracing nature, and issues of sustainability. The Lovell House was Neutra’s first attempt to alter the way people live through appropriate design in hopes of allowing a better lifestyle. The house appeared alien to a country accustom to traditional housing styles. However, one will find that many of Neutra’s notions about lifestyle and architecture are timeless.
The key to the success of the Lovell House was due in large part to the architect/client relationship. The Lovell House and Neutra’s beliefs, would have had a difficult time being realized where it not for Dr. Lovell who was willing to construct such a novel ‘modern’ house. Neutra and Lovell were futurists in a sense. In fact Dr. Lovell professed what would later become the Southern California ‘lifestyle’, a lifestyle that stressed fitness and health. Neutra also proclaimed a healthy lifestyle; however he was able to give built form to his beliefs. It’s interesting to note that an architecture viewed as radical and unacceptable during its time, is now an architecture to strive for.
The Lovell House was revolutionary for both its proposal of a healthier lifestyle and for its proclamation of a new architecture which coincided with modern life. Not only was the construction method novel it also changed the way in which architects designed. A shift in architectural thought began, spaces conceived of as volumes. Architects no longer had to conceive of buildings as structures of mass and solidity, the Lovell House and its techniques, allowed architects to think in terms of volume- space enclosed by planes and surfaces.
However, there is a greater lesson to be learned. Neutra’s reputation has often been rooted to stylistic classification and analysis, whereas the overriding philosophical belief of his architecture is often overlooked; humanism focusing on [wo]man in relationship to nature. This belief manifests itself in all of Neutra’s designs. Contemporary architecture would benefit greatly if Neutra’s principles were analyzed and applied with more conviction.
So that’s one of mine, what is one of your favorite buildings?
** photo 3 from Penn State University Library’s photostream, photo 4 from The City Project’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License) photo 5 via Wikimedia Commons.