Richard Neutra’s psycho-physical work offers an early insight into the often awkward relationship between architecture and psychology
Austrian-American modernist Richard Neutra (1892-1970) articulated a peculiar type of therapeutic architecture. Influenced by developments in modern psychology he insisted his designs could cure his clients from neuroses. His vision became popular on the American west coast and particularly within Hollywood, caught as it was in the slipstream of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Although slightly silly at times, and failing miserably at curing neuroses, Neutra’s eclectic modernism offers important insights into the relationship between architecture and psychology.
In 1929, four years after he established himself as an independent architect on the west coast, Richard Neutra completed his masterpiece, the Lovell Health House. Nested in a seemingly impossible to reach location in the Hollywood Hills the house offers a spectacular view of the city of Los Angeles and a tempting glimpse of the ocean behind. All this is brought to the fore by the house’s geometrical scheme of straight lines and glass, at the time a novelty for the West Coast, as was a construction made entirely out of steel. The analysis that lay at the heart of the design was also particularly innovative. This young architect, who had a preoccupation with the human psyche and a vision about the way his houses could affect its condition, followed the behaviours and motivations of the Lovell family in minute detail.
The house was called Lovell Health House for a reason. It contains an open-air fitness suite, rooms for sunbathing and sleeping out in the open, and various dietary and therapeutic services. Upon its completion an organized tour attracted a huge crowd. Around 15.000 visitors made their way through the house to marvel at the modernity of it all. Yet most of them were unable to see how anyone could actually live in it. The house was unlike anything they had seen before, the style entirely new and strange. ‘Moon-architecture’, one of the visitors was said to have muttered. […]