Finally made it down to La Jolla to see William Pereira’s Geisel Library. (Or was it Gin Wong?)
Not a cheap or thin building, but a really incredible one. Exterior is a 10/10. Very evil-headquarters when approaching from the north and the hulking thing first reveals itself from behind the trees, but then the closer you get the less evil it seems.
When I saw Koenig House 2 pop up on modernist real estate Instagram, my first thought was: is there going to be an open house? I’d read about the house before, in the two Koenigbooks I have, though as a house from 1985, it falls outside his “heroic” period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when his steel frame houses began popping up around Southern California and — most notably — in the pages of Arts & Architecture and its Case Study House program.
His most well-known house is undoubtedly the much-filmed and much-publicized Case Study House 22 (The Stahl House) of 1960, which hangs over a cliff in the Hollywood Hills, though the house that made the biggest impression on me when I first leafed through a book on the Case Study House program was 1958’s CSH 21, the Bailey House, an incredibly simple little structure that contrasts a deep-black steel frame with bright white steel walls and roof. Stark, really, and made only more so by its lack of overhanging eaves.
Anyway, I’d never been in a Koenig house, so when I saw that there was going to be an open house, I knew I had to try and make it there.
When visiting Neutra’s basketball court, I’d never thought much about the building just up the hill. I’d noticed the great big painted letters on the exterior, sure, I’m always looking out for letters.
This last time I went to visit the Neutra and after I had taken a few photos, I started walking to my car and turned to look back down at the Neutra from a distance, but what caught my eye wasn’t the red building down the hill, it was the blue building right next to me — its northwest elevation, specifically, not the southeast one I’d seen before. Gosh, what a lovely building! A beautiful little steel structure joined with a pair of concrete block ones. Almost kind of high-tech looking, with little spider-leg support nods to Neutra.
So I quickly walked around the building and snapped some iPhone photos, all the while wondering: who designed this little blue gem?
We must’ve been looking for a place to walk our neurotic dog. I can’t think of any other reason why we would’ve ended up at the Eagle Rock Rec Center in 2016, to take a walk on the big field that stretches out below the building pictured above. I must’ve wondered who designed the building, since I’ve known Neutra designed it for as long as I’ve known about the building, but back then — when “Neutra” was just a name I remembered from an architectural history survey course — it wouldn’t have meant much.
What struck me then was how dilapidated the whole thing was. Crumbling concrete, peeling paint. Not tragically dilapted, just… kind of cruddy, in an oddly exciting way. Here was an architect mentioned in every 20th century architectural history textbook you can find, and yet, here was an incredibly normal building that people played basketball in. No fences, no guards, no tickets. Just a Neutra, next to some tennis courts, above a baseball field.
“Cheap and thin.” That’s how Frank Lloyd Wright famously described Richard Neutra’s Lovell Health House in 1932. It’s a criticism I love not only because it illustrates how much of a dickhead Frank Lloyd Wright was, but also because it’s accurate: Neutra’s houses were cheap and thin.
And not by mistake. His designs, and the many more those inspired, were intentionally cheap and thin.
Once upon a time, in a small village in rural France, I walked with two architectural history professors on a narrow road. Our shoes crunched on the gravel for a while until one professor stopped to look up at a small rustic building. You see that beam there? We turned to where he was pointing. Amazing to think that’s how they did that. The other professor agreed and they started to discuss the beam in great detail.
This was the summer after I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architectural history. The two professors were there in France to photograph Gothic churches, and I was there as an assistant. It was an unforgettable three weeks; the cathedrals we visited were some of the most incredible spaces I’ve ever entered. But as I stood there on that road looking at that beam, I knew I could never muster that kind of passion for buildings, and made a mental note to cross “Architectural historian” off my list of possible careers.