A few months ago it was the Friars Club that fell victim to the wrecking ball. Now another Beverly Hills landmark, Richard Neutra’s Kronish House (left, in photo by Marc-Angeles-of-Unlimited-Style-Photography), is under threat of being torn down, due, says Christopher Hawthorne in this Los Angeles Times story, to that city’s lack of “even the most basic historic-preservation ordinance.”
Hawthorne mentions that this threat to one of the Neutra’s more opulent designs (that neither he — nor I — has actually seen) takes place in a moment when the role of preservation in cities is under debate; Rem Koolhaas has mounted a provocative, if at times contradictory, show on the topic, entitled Cronocaos, and, as Hawthorne succintly puts it, “there is a thin line in many cities between well-meaning crusades to save individual landmarks and moves to seal entire urban districts in amber.” This is a topic that I’ve been planning to discuss on an upcoming DnA (with the experience of having grown up in a city “sealed in amber:” Bath, England). Meanwhile, the Kronish House falls in the camp of an individual landmark that warrants a “crusade,” and reportedly Beverly Hills City Council will discuss the property tonight. For more on the actual state of the house, whose poor, and much edited, state has deterred potential saviors of the house, see this very informative piece in Curbed LA.
I write from Europe, having recently visited the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in Berlin and was once again reminded of the visionary spirit of the early Modernists, like Richard Neutra, who radicalized domestic living — and, in their view, human health — with functional, open and light-filled design (typically built, however, in manmade materials that have tended to age badly, complicating preservation efforts).
According to Richard Neutra’s son Dion, writing in a letter to Beverly Hills City Council, “The Kronish House is likely the largest and probably the most imposing of the houses designed by the Neutra Practice in North America. Completed in 1955, the 6,891 square foot residence was designed with an innovative and distinctive pinwheel plan Barbara Lamprecht has called “a pinwheel plan on steroids.” Author of two books on Richard Neutra, Lamprecht describes the Kronish Hosue, “the interstitial spaces are filled with pools and plantings, akin to Roman villas with interior atria and impluvia, with an elaborate spatial sequence of outdoor and indoor rooms and ever-changing views of landscape and plantings”