To really appreciate the buildings designed by the late architect Richard J. Neutra, you've got to stop looking at them.
The important thing is the feel inside. Neutra devotees say that is what best shows his ideal: A home, even a tiny one, can make its harried urban inhabitants happier and healthier by keeping them close to nature.
"Architecture is more than making a statement from the street. It's making an environment for living," said Neutra's son, Dion, an architect and consultant to the Silver Lake-based Institute for Survival Through Design. The nonprofit group promotes the elder Neutra's philosophy through educational programs.
Those ideas will be on display Sunday during a day of rare public tours inside several Silver Lake offices and homes designed by Neutra over three decades before his death in 1970. The tour includes the Neutra family's own home on Silver Lake Boulevard, now owned by Cal Poly Pomona. The five-stop tour, which covers a neighborhood on the east side of the lake, also features designs by Dion Neutra.
The self-guided tour, marking Richard Neutra's birth 100 years ago this week, kicks off six months of exhibits, lectures and more local tours to showcase Neutra's work and raise money for the institute.
The centennial Wednesday was designated as Richard Neutra Day in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles City Council renamed Silver Lake's Argent Place, which is home to several Neutra-designed buildings, Neutra Place.
An exhibit of student-made models of Neutra designs is under way at Cal Poly Pomona, along with a series of weekly lectures ending May 11. Three exhibits of Neutra's architectural drawings and other sketches, plus photographs of his buildings, open today at UCLA's Wight Art Gallery and two other campus sites. They run through May 10.
Also planned is a May 2 open house and black-tie fund-raiser at the world-famous Lovell Health House near Griffith Park. The date is the 97th anniversary of the birth of Phillip Lovell, the late food and health guru who commissioned Neutra to design the building in the 1920s.
Dion Neutra said the institute plans an international meeting of architects in Dallas in June focusing on his father's themes and launching a long-term effort to compile a computer database of design standards worldwide.
USC will also host a major Neutra exhibit and lecture series featuring experts on his work from Aug. 24 to Oct. 1.
Richard Neutra, an Austrian immigrant who worked mostly in Southern California, won international renown by blending modern construction technology with keen attention to his buildings' natural surroundings. Through the prominent use of glass and landscaping, his designs opened the homes' interiors to the trees, flowers and natural light from outside in an effort to create a sense of rural calm, even in a city setting.
Dion Neutra said his father's concerns with environment remain in tune with today's worries about problems such as air pollution and global warming. The idea, then and now, is that careful design can make a difference, he said.
Tickets for Sunday's tours, to be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., are $35 each and will be available at the institute office at 2379 Glendale Blvd. Advance purchase is not required. Tickets for the May 2 fund-raiser at Lovell Health House are $150 per person and can be bought in advance by check to Neutra 100, 2379 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles 90039.