Neutra VDL Studio and Residences – Cal Poly Pomona College of Environment Design
Seventy-five years ago, in Los Angeles, with a no-interest loan from Dutch philanthropist Dr CH Van Der Leeuw, Viennese-American architect Richard Neutra built a radical "glass house" with rooftop and balcony gardens on Silverlake Boulevard. He called it the VDL Research house, after his benefactor. It was designed to accommodate his office and two families on a small 60 x 70 foot lot.
Seven years later, as his family expanded, he built a garden house on the back of the lot. This compact wing had walls that slid open onto a pocket garden to be shared by the addition and main house. In 1963 after a disastrous fire, that left unscathed only the 1940 Garden house and basement of the original wing, Richard and his son and partner Dion Neutra had a chance to redesign the main house. Two floors and a penthouse solarium were built on the original prefabricated basement structure. They applied what the practice had learned in the interim about sun louvers, water roofs, "nature-near", and physiologically motivated design.
It is a place, which could tell many stories. Over a thirty-year period hundreds of projects on four continents were designed there. These included the country's first modern school, many distinguished residences, and important public buildings. At mid century Neutra's influence was pervasive. In 1949 a Time Magazine cover story characterized him as "second only to lordly Frank Lloyd Wright". VDL saw the beginning of the careers of architects who came as apprentices to work there from all over the world including, among others Gregory Ain, Raphael Soriano and Donald Wexler. Photographer Julius Shulman's career started with this office. VDL played host to cultural figures like Frank Lloyd Wright, László Moholy-Nagy, Jorn Utzon, Charles and Ray Eames; religious figures like Robert Schuller and J. Krishnamurti; scientists like Rene Dubos and Linus Pauling; and to political figures and activists like John Anson Ford, Frank Wilkinson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
VDL Today and Mission
The Neutra VDL Studio and Residences (1932, 1939, and 1965) of famed modernist architect Richard Neutra is under the stewardship of the College of Environmental Design (ENV) and Department of Architecture (CPP ARC) at Cal Poly Pomona. The primary mission of the College of ENV and CPP ARC with respect to VDL is to use the house as an educational resource for students and faculty, to preserve and maintain the property, to make the house accessible to visitors through tours given by CPP ARC students, and to host arts and culture programs that strengthen the facility's mission as a community resource. The property and installation is open to visitors on Saturdays from 11am to 3pm.
Since 2008, CPP ARC Professor Sarah Lorenzen has served as its Resident Director managing programming, educating student docents, and overseeing the resoration of the house. In 2010 Sarah began an exhibition program where artists/architects are invited to spend time in residence and to create in-situ installations that respond to the architecture, the period in which the house was built, or the history of Richard Neutra. The artist David Hartwell (Sarah's husband) is an active participant in the restoration and programming activities at VDL, and is the house's resident photographer. His work inside and outside of VDL can be seen on his website doublebang.
About The Neutra VDL Director
Sarah Lorenzen, AIA is a partner at TOLO Architecture, architecture professor and former chair at Cal Poly Pomona Architecture (CPP ARC), and resident director of the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences. She holds two graduate degrees in Architecture (M.Arch I and II) from Georgia Tech and from Sci-Arc, and a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art/Smith College. She sits on the board of AIALA, and is the advisory board of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design. In 2015 Sarah was honored by AIA LA with presidential award for Educator of the Year.