Neutra: Articles and Letters
Smart Growth in Glendale, CA
The following is the text used by Elaine Wilkerson, Planning Director of Glendale in her introduction of Dion as panelist in a Public Forum held in Glendale, CA at the 421 Oak St. Fire station on October 28, 2004. The Forum was entitled “Smart Growth in Glendale”. Beside Elaine, there were present the Mayor of Burbank and several members of the planning team of the City of Glendale. Each panelist was to speak for 10 minutes, have a general discussion and allow time for Questions from the audience.
Dion Neutra Intro
Dion Neutra, architect, son and partner of Richard Neutra, began his training at the age of 11 in his father’s office. After extensive exposure to projects during his childhood, he graduated cum laude from USC, attending the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology architecture program in Zurich during his junior year. Upon graduation, he went to work full time for and with his father, becoming vice-president of the company in 1965, and assuming the presidency in 1970, when Richard Neutra died.
After over a quarter century of personal collaboration and first-hand involvement with most of the firm’s projects created from the 1940s on, Dion Neutra continues the Neutra Practice into the 21st Century. The firm celebrated its 75th year in practice in 2001.
The Neutras sounded the environmental alarm in the 1950s many years before ecology, green architecture and sustainable design became buzz words. As far back as he can remember, Dion’s father was warning that "today's man-made environment has become an irritating, increasing threat to the vitality and soundness of mind and body."
Mr. Neutra’s firm designs new projects and consults on restoration, preservation and conservation, not only of Neutra projects, but all projects of value to our community. His firm’s mission includes conforming to LEEDS standards for sustainability, recyclability as well as energy efficiency.
Acting as Executive Consultant to the Board of the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design, Mr. Neutra continues to develop projects and programs for this 501 (c3) nonprofit corporation as well. His program of Conservation Easements to preserve the recent past is an on-going effort to craft a preservation program accessible to a broader public.
The following are the remarks made by Dion in introducing the rest of the panel presentations:
The Neutra firm celebrates 78 years in practice this year. The firm was founded in LA by my father Richard Neutra in 1926, the year I was born, so it’s easy to keep track of. This year, coincidentally marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Survival Through Design, the seminal book written by my dad in which he foretells the end of the planet unless we PLAN FOR OUR SURVIVAL!
In this book he points out that of all extant species only MAN has that unique brain physiology that would permit him to actually plan for the future and for his survival. Are we up for the challenge, was his premise at that time in 1954. I have several copies of this book with me, that I’d be willing to sign later; they are out of print and a bargain at $25. Everyone in planning should have this book in their library.
The original hard cover version, which was published by Oxford University Press, came out without pictures in ’54. I believe the edition was in the range of 4000 copies. Libraries bought it, and a soft cover edition with an added picture section came out in 1969. I was told that entire edition of 5000 copies was bought up by the US Army, mistaking it as a ‘Survival Manual’! No one knows what happened to those books; they have not surfaced, to my knowledge. What warehouse somewhere houses all these books?
Suffice it to say, a second soft cover edition of another 5000 copies came out immediately thereafter, and my dad dedicated one of them to me in which he wrote: ‘SURVIVAL THROUGH DESIGN’ We believe in it both. My deep love and trust in my son, Dion – may he win them from ever more human beings for mutual happiness” RJN Xmas 1969. Four months later, he was gone. I’ve been carrying on the firm ever since.
In 1983, the Museum of Modern Art opened a retrospective exhibition of the work of our firm of the 50 years since their momentous show of 1932, which was the first time a west coast architect’s work had been featured. They announced that this show would travel, and appear the next year at UCLA, concurrently with the Olympics which would again appear here after its initial run in 1932.
I decided to curate a companion piece to supplement what they were doing. I called it ‘The architecture of Richard and Dion Neutra – The View from Inside’. My show opened at the Pacific Design Center in the spring of ’84 and could be seen together with the MOMA show which was at UCLA. To commemorate the occasion, I re –issued STD, which by then had long been out of print. I called it the “30th anniversary edition”, and wrote a new introduction for it.
In that, I wrote in the last paragraph: “Viewed against the course of architectural history …, these notions and the republication of this book for a new generation to ponder, seems appropriate. Let us hope that by the end of this century, we can see more comprehensive progress in the fulfillment of its aspirations.”
I was telling Terry, now I have to ask ‘Which Century?’ !!!
It turns out that much of what my dad espoused a half century ago, can only NOW realistically be implemented, and even then, much of the data has to be anecdotal. I’ve written my own seminal piece about how we might now finally implement some of this called “The Ultimate CAD Program” You can review it on our website at Neutra.org.
One of dad’s points was that we need to bring to bear the latest scientific knowledge to the planning process and to specific issues. In many places in his writings and all the way through our practice, we’ve also striven to find ways to involve people into planning on the theory that by that method they could become more involved and feel a part of the action, instead of viewing the process from the outside as spectators.
This really brings us to a theme of this evening’s Forum; ‘How to make the process of planning more interactive?”
Let me give you a specific case in point, and I challenge you officials of Glendale to see how you might respond if this occurred in your city.
I recently completed a consulting assignment for the City of LA Department of Recs and Parks. It had to do with our Eagle Rock Playground Recreation Center building, which a dozen years ago was rescued from demolition by its declaration as a City Monument. The city had badly neglected this building and allowed ugly and disfiguring changes and additions to be made. In the process they also subverted the original color scheme which was in place when they got the building in 1952.
The building was featured last weekend on the cover of a brochure created by a local group of preservationists in Eagle Rock, called TERA, on the occasion of their annual home tour; I have a copy if you’re interested afterwards. We were invited as honored guests to participate. At the wrap party in the evening I met many people who told me how much the Rec Center had meant to their lives growing up in the community, and how sorry they were to see the sad state of disrepair that the City had allowed.
I told several key people there of my dismay that over the years the main steel beams which traverse the gym ceiling had been repainted from chocolate brown, as we had them, to white to blend with the ceiling tile. I explained that I had asked the officials in charge of the current efforts to include the repainting of at least the inner parts of those beams to the original brown as long as they had scaffolding up anyway to work on the ceiling and various elements thereof.
I told folks that so far, I’d been unsuccessful to get the powers that be to authorize including this in the basic contract, but that it was not too late to issue a change order now. I estimated that the original work would probably have cost in the range of $1500 had it been part of the bid documents. As a change order, who knows, but certainly much less than starting from the floor up later. That ceiling must be close to 20’ above the floor. Would probably add to the completion time, however.
The councilman’s deputy, who was there, said he’d attempt to get this added even now.
Later, as I thought about it, the following thought came to me: With all those enthusiasts around, why not organize a field party for citizens and get these beams painted at community expense over a weekend? I’m guessing that maybe 20 gallons of paint would do it, at a cost of about $500. The labor would come from say 10 volunteers who could work in pairs on the beams and get the whole thing done over a two day weekend maximum. And without having to extend the contract!
Notice what they might mean to these volunteers. Think of the memories: “I participated in the repainting of those beams up there way back in the winter of ’04!” People involved would forever have a unique connection with this building; it would be like they owned a piece of it!
What more profound way can we imagine to achieve citizen participation in a public projects and its policy?
I knew there would be nay-sayers here, but the challenge would be to find a way anyway! Sure, there are risks, but life is a risk! Wouldn’t the paybacks be profoundly worth it?
I leave you with this thought. This little story can be thought of as a metaphor for the theme of this evening. The challenge for our elected representatives is to break out of the box and overcome the barriers to allowing the citizenry, who have the time and interest to come to forums like this, to physically and actively PARTICIPATE in public projects such as this. How would you have responded had this opportunity come up in the City of Glendale?
By extension, let the people get involved with more of the public policy that shapes their community and our environment. Now let’s hear some more examples of this as we go through the evening. Welcome!