On-line Book
Book Cover to Mission 66 Visitor Centers. With image of Dinosaur NM Visitor Center, view from beneath ramp


Table of Contentss




Wright Brothers


Pertified Forest

Rocky Mountain

Cecil Doty



Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Mission 66 Visitor Centers
Chapter 3
National Park Service Arrowhead

Richard J. Neutra and Robert E. Alexander, Architects and Planning Consultants

Richard Joseph Neutra was born in Vienna in 1892, the youngest child of Samuel Neutra, proprietor of a metal foundry, and Elizabeth Glazer Neutra. From his early youth, Richard seemed to know that his talent lay in the field of architectural design. As a student, he was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie houses, and during his second year at the Imperial Institute of Technology this interest in American architecture was encouraged by the German modernist Adolf Loos. Although World War I interrupted Neutra's studies and post-graduation plans to join his friend Rudolph Schindler in America, he remained determined to visit the "new world." After several years in the Imperial Army, Neutra found work as a city architect and then in the studio of Erich Mendelsohn, a proponent of the Expressionist strain of modernism. Finally, in 1923, Neutra immigrated to America. After a few months in New York, he moved to Chicago just in time to meet Louis Sullivan. Now impoverished and dying, Sullivan had once inspired the nation with his highly ornamental steel-framed skyscrapers. At Sullivan's funeral, Neutra became acquainted with Sullivan's former student, Frank Lloyd Wright. Over the next year, he spent several months at Taliesin, Wright's Wisconsin home and studio, and he also worked as a draftsman for the Chicago firm of Holabird and Roche. In 1925, Neutra headed to Southern California, bringing with him a background in International Style European modernism and personal impressions of some of the greatest American architects.

During his American travels, Neutra gathered ideas about the country's culture and architecture for two major works—a book called Wie Baut Amerika? (How America Builds) and a utopian project known as Rush City Reformed. The book included illustrations of Wright's concrete houses in Southern California and, like Le Corbusier's famous juxtapositions of ocean liners and buildings, modern architecture adjacent to Pueblo Indian structures. A featured house by Schindler for a Mr. Lloyd in La Jolla resembled the residences Neutra would design for the Park Service in the Painted Desert. But Neutra was clearly most interested in the construction and engineering of Palmer House, a Chicago skyscraper. This mixture of contemporary and historical influences, in combination with his commitment to improving the environment through better design, lay at the core of Neutra's belief in a new architecture. [15] In his idealistic Rush City drawings, some of which illustrated the book, Neutra tried to purify the urban experience by designing his futuristic American city around the automobile, an endless grid of buildings and freeways carefully engineered for high-speed travel. Rush City was a modern metropolis without either the problems of gridlock or responsibility of historic preservation. As biographer Thomas S. Hines has observed, Rush City combined traditional European planning with Chicago School skyscrapers and the Hollywood drive-in. Although Neutra's urban utopia was never intended to be built, aspects of the project appeared in his subsequent designs for schools, community buildings, and urban planning projects. If he contradicted the rigid organization of Rush City in later work, many of Neutra's ideas about social life can be traced to this early project.

Neutra quickly made his reputation in the rapidly growing city of Los Angeles, an ideal place for experimentation. Here, he found clients eager to live in houses without nostalgic or historical associations. The residence Neutra designed in 1927 for physician Philip Lovell, a "naturopath" who practiced medicine without drugs and advocated vegetarianism, and his wife Leah, the co-director of a liberal kindergarten, became known as the Health House. It was an architectural representation of Southern California's athletic lifestyle and a perfect advertisement for Neutra's new architectural practice. Public interest in this extraordinary building was so intense that when Dr. Lovell invited those who were interested to tour the house, fifteen thousand people accepted the invitation. [16] Neutra soon became famous for energetic buildings that brought sunlight and sea air into the living space. During the thirties and forties, he designed dozens of houses, schools and public buildings along the coast of California. His progressive aesthetics, and the openness and vitality of his modern designs, were especially welcome in this untested environment. Neutra's experimental school in Los Angeles, "designed for activity rather than simply for listening," promoted a freedom in school planning that has since become standard practice. [17] Along with fellow Viennese architect Rudolph Schindler and many disciples, Neutra designed the modern architecture that is now considered traditional in Southern California. No history of American architecture fails to mention his importance.

It must have been a surprise to many when Richard Neutra, the renowned modern architect, decided to share his work with a partner. During his first years in Los Angeles, he had briefly collaborated with Schindler, but the two didn't work well together and dissolved the professional relationship. Nearly thirty years later, Neutra was himself an icon of modern architecture whose achievements reflected a forceful personality, original architectural philosophy, and iconoclastic design concepts. With his wild white hair and piercing eyes, he appeared a stereotype of the egotistical genius. And yet, in his later years, Neutra's practice had begun to diminish. Rather than retire with a spectacular resume of accomplishments, however, he hoped to revive his career by collaborating on larger urban projects. When Robert Alexander approached him with hopes of working together on a major Los Angeles housing development, Neutra accepted the challenge.

Robert Evans Alexander was born in 1907 in Bayonne, New Jersey, and played football for Cornell University. After graduating in 1930, Alexander moved to Southern California, where he became a partner in the firm of Wilson, Merrill and Alexander. The firm gained professional notice during its collaboration with Reginald Johnson and Clarence Stein on Baldwin Hills Village beginning in 1937. This 627-unit residential development launched Alexander into the world of urban planning. In 1948, he became president of the Los Angeles Planning Board, a position that proved helpful in obtaining coveted work from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). Alexander hoped to design one of the FHA's most prominent projects in Los Angeles—the Chavez Ravine housing—but needed the clout of a major architect to secure the commission. Neutra fit that description, and in 1949, he agreed to work with Alexander on the Ravine project. Although this controversial development was never built, the architects' collaborative experience resulted in the establishment of Neutra and Alexander. [18]

In Robert Alexander, Neutra hoped to find a colleague who could bring in larger commissions and oversee their administration. During its early years, the newly established firm obtained several major contracts, including an urban redevelopment project on the island of Guam, college buildings, churches, and elementary schools. However, even as Neutra and Alexander received design awards and a steady stream of clients, their personal working relationship had begun to crumble. The fact that Neutra and Alexander worked in separate offices did not contribute to a smooth collaboration. Neutra concentrated on the design concepts from his home in Silverlake, while Alexander tackled the firm's planning issues from an office down the block. The partnership began to dissolve during the Gettysburg and Petrified Forest commissions of 1958, with the understanding that work already begun would be followed to completion. During the final stages of these projects, Neutra continued to work from Silverlake, while Alexander opened his own Los Angeles office on South Flower Street.

As the partnership developed, Neutra and Alexander's conflicting design philosophies became increasingly apparent. Neutra produced austere buildings based on the precepts of International Style modernism, whereas Alexander tried to soften the crisp lines and severe minimalism. Given Neutra's rigid modernist aesthetics, it must have been frustrating for Alexander to hear the philosophical rationalizations of his work. In his writings, Neutra drew on regional history, natural surroundings, and personal experience to discover universal principles, which he then attempted to represent in built form. Like other modern architects, he describes historical allusions in his work that are sometimes difficult to perceive. In a letter to Regional Director Thomas Allen he noted that "although our building consists of rolled steel sections and aluminum sash plate glazed and fabricated as of today, we have, in other aspects in our motivations of design, followed the desire to relate men's work of today with the long historical past." [19] Unlike some of his colleagues, Neutra realized that historical associations were often overwhelmed by the modernist style, and he attempted to compensate through his writings.

When Arts and Architecture profiled famous west coast architects in 1964, Neutra was in his seventies and had finally completed his work for the Park Service. The article portrayed Neutra not as a regional designer or a relic of the International Style, but as an architect whose significant contributions to the profession had continued to evolve since the 1920s and 1930s. If most famous for the unusual construction and philosophical ramifications of his Lovell House, Neutra had also developed the "bilaterally illuminated classroom lighted by strip window on one side and sliding glass doors on the other." In urban planning, he was responsible for city projects integrating "below grade speedways; underground parking garages; parks separating traffic and high-rise apartments; pedestrian walks about street level; buildings with ground floors open to traffic; and small neighborhood plazas." During the war years, Neutra transformed traditional materials, such as wood, brick, and glass, into innovative panels, sleek surfaces, and walls that seemed to dissolve into the landscape. Perhaps most important in understanding Neutra's contribution to the architectural profession and the attraction of Mission 66 planners to his work is the incredible consistency of his design. Because he believed that design choices developed out of human needs, he produced a fairly standard set of solutions to social problems. As the journal article pointed out, this system resulted in efficient and accurate estimates for contracting costs. Neutra's faith in the "social significance" of his architecture, his effort to create a balanced, "harmonic" relationship with the environment, and his experience with modern materials in public buildings might well have been criteria for a Mission 66 job description. Working with such an artistic personality could pose risks, but with Neutra one knew just the type of building to expect. The Park Service could be conservative in its choice of "radical" architects. [20]

CONTINUED continued


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