Blog: Richard Neutra, a Malibu architect with a mid-century pedigree

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The Kaufmann House, designed by Richard Neutra in 1946.

Long coveted by a veritable who’s who of Hollywood glitterati, Malibu architect Richard Neutra’s iconic residential designs are as sought after today as they were revolutionary upon their debut more than half a century ago.

Neutra’s elegantly minimalist aesthetic evolved over many years, first under the tutelage and mentorship of such residential architecture luminaries as Adolf Loos, Max Fabiani, and Karl Mayreder, and later during his experiments in landscape architecture working for Gustav Amman in Switzerland.

It was after emigrating to the United States from his native Vienna in 1923, however, that Neutra’s particular take on a new, more pared back approach to residential architecture found fertile soil in Southern California. This is where his collaborations with close friend Rudolph Schindler resulted in Neutra’s defining modernist style as a residential architect.

Neutra’s residential architecture from this period both created and defined the Californian, and particularly Malibu aesthetic. To this day, this aesthetic embodies the casual elegance synonymous with the effortless simplicity of the ideal Southern California lifestyle.

Open spaces, clean lines, and sleek and unadorned surfaces are key elements in Neutra’s Malibu architecture, where vast swathes of windows bring in the light and are open to the views that create an unbroken dialogue between outdoors and indoors. This “biorealism,” as Neutra called it, evoked “the inherent and inseparable relationship between man and nature,” and was a central theme in the more than 300 houses he designed in California between 1927 and 1969.

A few highlights of Neutra’s career in California include the Kaufmann House, built in 1946 for department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann as a winter vacation home in Palm Springs. The house exemplifies Neutra’s devotion to biorealism, and is considered one of his International Style masterpieces. Later in his career, the Samuel and Luella Maslon house, built in Rancho Mirage, California in 1963, came to be known as one of the residential architect’s crowning achievements. Sadly, the house was demolished a year after Mrs. Maslon’s death, after being sold to a new owner.

As a Malibu architect, Neutra’s work can be enjoyed just by settling in for brunch at local haunt Geoffrey’s Malibu. The restaurant, originally designed by Neutra as the Holiday House in 1948, boasts sweeping ocean views and was made legendary by the JFK-Marilyn Monroe canoodling that was rumored to have taken place there.

Those looking for a more intimate Neutra experience need look no further than the Cohen House #2, built for comedian Sammy Cohen in 1957, and recently on the market for rent at $9,500 a month. Perched perfectly over Escondido Beach, the house has taken a beating over the decades, most recently nearly succumbing to an El Niño storm. The house has since been rehabbed and its rambling decks and endless views are just waiting to be discovered by new Neutra enthusiasts.

See more photos here