From its 1962 beginnings, the missions of the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design (NISTD) have been forward-looking, aspiring to promote evidence-inspired design. In 2018 the Institute Board reformulated these missions as follows:
- Fostering and celebrating well-researched design that serves humanity and the planet and
- Preserving and interpreting the Neutra Legacy to stimulate new design solutions for enduring needs.
Neutra believed that an important part of the legacy was the priority placed on recognizing those enduring human and environmental needs and the commitment to satisfy them in new ways.
Thus, the Institute has two reasons for preserving Neutra archives, designs and buildings: Their value as historical artistic expressions and the questions they pose for the future.
These two reasons have implications for the preservation of the three hundred or so remaining projects of the Neutra practice: The simplest acts of maintenance, refurbishment or unavoidable modification of these projects should be informed not only by esthetic considerations, but also by the values and intentions that influenced the original design.
Preservation Related Activities
While the Institute is not constituted to provide direct guidance and consultation on individual projects or to endorse consulting architects, contractors or preservationists, it is already advancing and proposing to advance preservation and interpretation in the following ways:
- Provide guides on its website to the many archives with Neutra materials
- Support adequate finding aids to these materials
- Have policies that facilitate access for owners and scholars
- Accumulate information useful for preservation and interpretation and links to helpful organizations on its website
- Provide references and education on the Neutra philosophy of Biorealism
- Model good stewardship of the three Neutra-designed apartments under its care by restoring them and obtaining historical status and protection.
- Create interpretive educational materials for these three properties and the Neutra Colony
- Develop beneficial use plans for these three properties
- Encourage owners of residential and non-residential Neutra properties to recognize their own important stewardship roles
- Support virtual reality tours of projects that represent historic milestones in the development of the Neutra practice
- Support legal historic designations of such projects
- Provide moral support to preservationist groups who oppose the thoughtless destruction of Neutra projects.
- Create a platform where owners, architects, contractors and preservationists can help each other
- In collaboration with academic institutions: Sponsor tours, webinars and online conferences in which scholars and stakeholders who influence the integrity of preservation can share success stories. These stakeholders include:
- heirs of original owners and real estate agents who assured that properties were acquired by appreciative new owners
- new and original owners, architects and contractors who carried out exemplary preservations
- owners and preservation experts who placed historic protections on Neutra buildings.
- preservationist groups who prevented the needless destruction of Neutra projects.
The Value of Discussions about the Varieties of Appropriate Preservation
There is no one way of preserving Neutra buildings and neighborhoods. The Neutra practice was committed to gathering experience and to steady improvement. Certain buildings represent important evolutionary milestones in the practice. These deserve to be preserved as close as possible to their original state. In this way, one can actually experience the evolution of the means used to satisfy enduring needs (i.e. the 1932-1939-1963 Neutra VDL Studio and Residences).
Other buildings such as schools, civic and religious buildings, housing projects and individual residences continue to be occupied. All of them will require maintenance, restoration and even may require modification to suit changing functions. Experience shows that all of this can be done in ways that retain the integrity of the initial intent and design. By sponsoring interchanges about nuts and bolts issues and about how underlying values and intent can inform the pros and cons of preservation design options, the Institute is not just serving the three hundred Neutra owners. Seeing a thoughtful approach to the preservation of Neutra’s work is relevant to the preservation of the work of a whole generation of midcentury architects with similar commitments. And even more, the same thoughtful process would apply to future well-researched designs that serve humanity and the planet in entirely new environmental situations.
Policies Toward Specific Projects
The Institute has intellectual property rights over the Neutra legacy of writings, designs and plans. It plans to exercise these in a manner consistent with its missions. It will cooperate with owners, scholars and those interested in preservation for profitable purposes. In the latter case it will negotiate to direct a reasonable fraction of the profits made to advance the activities of the Institute.
When the Institute authorizes an archive to create digitized copies of plans and photographs, it will require that these digital copies be available thenceforth for scholarly study through that archive.
The Institute encourages owners to use the preservation information and Neutra philosophy on its website and to involve experienced architects, contractors and preservationists in their projects. It will encourage the owners, involved architects, contractors and preservationists to prepare their own presentation on lessons learned. These will be presented and recorded for the Institute’s webinar series for other Neutra owners and interested parties. Owners will also be asked to allow the Institute to carry out a photogrammetry of the completed project for its website.
The Institute opposes the construction of projects that were designed by Richard or Dion Neutra but not built during their lifetimes. As others have pointed out, for every architectural design there is a gap between the architect’s initial design, as expressed in sketches, plans, and specifications, and the structure actually built on the basis of that design. That gap is closed during the construction process, when otherwise ambiguous or unspecified design details are worked out and incorporated into the finished project. Richard and Dion each anticipated that he himself, or a trusted delegate, would supervise the construction of his designs, making the day-to-day decisions necessary to realize each design in built form. That process cannot be replicated today. Moreover, in almost all cases, unbuilt projects were designed for specific sites that are now unavailable, and in collaboration with clients who are no longer involved. Finally, differences between previously prevailing construction methods and building codes, and the methods and codes now in force, make it highly unlikely that these unbuilt designs could be accurately and successfully realized in built form today.
For the same reasons, the Institute opposes the reconstruction, from scratch, of Neutra-designed projects that were built during the architect’s lifetime but later destroyed. This opposition does not extend to reconstruction of lost or damaged features of existing projects when undertaken in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
On the other hand, the Institute encourages the construction of accurate replicas of milestone projects, whether extant or demolished, for exhibitions and museums when experienced architects and preservationists are involved.
Moreover, the Institute invites proposals from those interested in creating virtual reality experiences based on such milestone projects as well as thoroughly designed unbuilt projects.
The Institute will not evaluate or endorse efforts to design contemporary projects that are intended to be “Neutra-like” in character through the incorporation of distinctive Neutra design features and details.
Our friends at the Iconic House Network, the Getty Conservation Institute, and Sunnylands have prepared a toolkit for the preservation of modernist buildings. This should be useful to Neutra owners of residential and non-residential buildings. Here is the link: