Defining Modernism in California: The Neutra VLD Studio and Residences
Shot on location in Silver Lake, Los Angeles
Embedded in a quiet oasis in the middle of L.A. is a building that radiates two things in particular: tranquility and clear shapes. Outside, eucalyptus trees are moving softly in the wind while in the courtyard, the cacti cast gentle shadows across the stone floor.
Already here it becomes evident that Richard Neutra’s design appreciates nature in all its forms, respects it and incorporates it into his architecture.
The Neutra VDL Studio and Residences (also named VDL Research House), located at 2300 Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles, California is an architectural concept that combines living with working in one building – it served as the residence and office of Viennese-American architect Richard Neutra.
The almost 200-square-meter structure was built in 1932 – the name VDL refers to an early admirer of Neutra, Cees Van der Leeuw, a Dutch industrialist and architecture enthusiast who granted Neutra a loan for his project. Neutra lived here with his wife Dione and their three sons.
In the design of the VDL House (1932), Neutra sought to show that the innovations he had introduced at the Lovell Health House (1928) could also be used in designs for less wealthy clients.
Through the use of natural lighting, glass walls that opened onto the garden, and mirrors, he created a space that reflected, rather than limited, the nearby space of Silver Lake. The H-shaped VDL House extends over three floors. It has two main buildings aligned in parallel – a private building and one guest house. These two wings are connected by a lower structure, which contains storage, a bathroom, and a utility room. In addition, there was an open space in the middle that was used as a patio. The rooms are arranged around an open staircase and have built-in furniture kept in neutral tones.
In March 1963, the original house was struck by fire and was almost completely destroyed. The guest house and the basement of the main house were preserved, so Richard Neutra rebuilt the house together with his son Dion. Two floors were built on top of the original floor, along with a penthouse solarium. The architects saw the reconstruction as an opportunity to add new elements that were innovative and groundbreaking at the time, such as reflective pools and sun louvers. Parts of the house still contain original objects, like the collection of books in the upper living area. Also, there are several pieces of furniture in the residence that were designed by Richard Neutra. The Boomerang chairs, for example, came from a design Neutra created in the 1940s for the Channel Heights housing development in San Pedro, California.
The Neutra VDL House and Residences is a place of many stories. Hundreds of projects were designed in this building. Likewise, the residence served as a meeting place for the creative scene of the time, hosting Frank Lloyd Wright, László Moholy-Nagy, Jorn Utzon, Charles and Ray Eames, among others.
Richard Neutra lived at the VDL Studio and Residences until his death in 1970. Today, the building is registered as a National Historic Landmark and functions as a museum and cultural institution to share and discover ideas in art and architecture. In 1990, the house was donated to Cal Poly Pomona College of Environmental Design by Neutra’s wife, Dione.
“I wanted to demonstrate that human beings, brought together in close proximity, can be accommodated in very satisfying circumstances, taking in that precious amenity called privacy.”
— RICHARD NEUTRA