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Richard Neutra, I love you
by Katy Purviance on 03/21/08 @ 10:51:33 am
Categories: Observations, Architects | 684 words | 2440 views

The other day, I talked a little bit about Brad Pitt’s charity for New Orleanians, Make It Right, and how the team of architects had been put together by one of my heroes, William McDonough.

This got me to thinking about something my University of Idaho History of Architecture professor, Phil Mead, told us in class.

“Study all the architects throughout history, and the ones who are working today. You’ll find a few who really resonate with you.”

He went on to say that we should pay special attention to what these architects have done, and what they continue to do. These architects become our mentors, and we can learn much from them.

I’ve identified not only William McDonough as one such mentor, but also Richard Neutra. I read just about every book the Los Angeles Library System had on Neutra last summer. We had studied him…briefly…in class, but it wasn’t until I dived in on my own that I fell in love with his approach to architecture.

Hold on, I just found this video of Neutra’s 1934 Sten-Frenke House in Santa Monica for you. (It’s even got cool dramatic music.)

How many windows did you count? If you answered, “Oh my goodness, all those windows are making me orgasmic,” you are correct.

During my intensive self-study of Neutra last summer, I learned that he was friends with Sigmund Freud’s son. This new way of thinking about the human psyche greatly influenced Neutra: he would psychoanalyze his clients before he designed for them. It was important to him to know what was going on, deep within the minds of his clients. And what he found is that people needed a deep connection to the outdoors.

It’s pretty much the exact opposite approach driving those nasty lookalike copy cat cookie cutter suburban spec “crap houses.” (Thanks, Brad Pitt!)

An obscene number of windows is critical.

Sunlight has been a component in healing ever since Greek hospitals included lots of outdoor areas for therapy. More recently in 1860, Florence Nightingale wrote that patients on the bright side of a hospital recovered better than those on the dark side. Her observations led to the construction of long hospital wings surrounded by gardens. In 1903, Neils Finson won the Nobel Prize for research that proved the benefits of UV light therapy on tuberculosis. Later however, the discovery of penicillin and the widespread use of antibiotics marked the decline of environmental therapies in architectural design. Henceforth, the prevailing trend was interior efficiency and spaces that moved further and further away from access to windows.

Statistics say that people spend 90% of their time indoors. People just aren’t getting enough sunlight.

My professor, Phil Mead, gave a talk about sunlight and architecture at a 2002 ASID meeting.

Typically, small daily doses of sunlight (an average of 15 minutes—not the prolonged exposures linked to skin cancer) provide enough Vitamin D production. But getting even this amount of sunlight is problematic if we always stay indoors. Many people get in cars that are in their garages and drive to other parking garages, which are often underground.

“If you go directly into your garage, the only real outside experience you get is driving your car, and you are inside,” Mead said.

“There is no other way to get Vitamin D, except to go outside. Outdoor rooms and outdoor kitchens, you just have to make them comfortable. So, it’s a matter of the architecture orients the outdoor space to the breezes and prevailing winds. Where it’s dry in Texas, you put on misters. A fan makes them (outdoor rooms) comfortable.”

“Some elderly housing provides gardens outside. But also the porches outside help—just getting them (older people) outside sitting on the porch. They do get indirect light. We don’t know how much; that’s some study we’ll have to do—I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of years—to see how much light you do get, Vitamin D you do get, when you’re in a shadow, when you get indirect sunlight.”

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