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steel design

The Lovells had commissioned a beach house at Newport Beach, near Los Angeles from Rudolph Schindler in 1923. Six years later, although the architect had looked at sites and done sketches, the Lovells asked his associate, Richard Neutra, to design their Griffith Park house. The Schindler house had been a dramatic concrete structure. Neutra's had a lightweight steel frame, prefabricated panels, suspended balconies and edgy detailing.

I saw it first in 1963, stepping down a wooded hillside, a free, exuberant, dramatic form as distant as it was possible to be from that bleak, miserable architectural statement, the Farnsworth house, which I saw around the same time. It was the days when you could knock on the door of houses all over the world and people would invite you in for tea. I sat for a couple of hours in Bruce Goff's living room with him presiding like Liberace talking about architecture.

But at Griffith Park I couldn't get in and I stood on the top of the hill and looked down at the house with its terraces and its complexity. It was wonderful. It had all the glamour of Hollywood and the West Coast and the whole American thing - and it was a steel frame built at a time when practically every other house in California was Spanish Mission, lift-slab or a mixture of both.

I admire Neutra's house for the same reasons I admire the work of Craig Ellwood. Either side of the war they produced architecture which was both of their times and truly of the geographic region. And they designed for real people. It's a much more difficult thing to do than making abstract statements of the Farnsworth kind. You think of Adolf Loos' house in Prague, white and Modern but loose, complex and rich in its spaces.

Reyner Banham talked about the Lovell house as looking 'like an attempt to realise a purely European vision of Machine Age architecture.' I'm not entirely sure about that view. The architecture of the time was very conservative. This is a building which could never have been built in Europe at the time. It has the free-spiritedness of the American West Coast and, ok it's European, but it's European in Hawaiian shorts.Wonderful.

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