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Exhibition: Windshield: Richard Neutra's House for the John Nicholas Brown Family at the National Building Museum
Destroyed by fire in 1973, the Windshield House lives on in a traveling show.
May 21, 2002
“In the last year, half a dozen Modernist works have been destroyed or severely disfigured. Last July, a new owner tore down R.M. Schindler's 1928 Wolfe House on Catalina Island, a structure that had figured prominently in the Museum of Contemporary Art's retrospective on the late Modernist only a few months earlier. A month ago, Richard Neutra's 1963 Maslon House – one of the architect's last major works – was demolished in Palm Springs.” - Nicolai Ouroussoff, Architecture Critic, Los Angeles Times, There Goes Our History, April 28, 2002
The last few months have been, to put it mildly, a bit disheartening for preservation advocates of early/mid-20th century design. Perhaps, in about 30 years, the National Building Museum will host an exhibition of the newly extinct Maslon House. In the meantime, the museum, along with the American Architectural Foundation, is presenting Windshield: Richard Neutra’s House for the John Nicholas Brown Family, which opens Saturday, May 25th in Washington, DC, and will be on view through August 18th.
Don’t plan a summer excursion to Fishers Island in New York to see Neutra's first East Coast project; completed in 1938 – it was destroyed by fire in 1973. But the exhibition offers a comprehensive examination of the residence known as Windshield (so named for its expanses of glass). The show includes more then 100 objects, reconstructs the process of the home’s creation through extensive architect-client correspondence, and features original drawings and sketches, models, blueprints, photographs, and home movies.
John Nicholas Brown and Anne Kinsolving Brown were enthusiastic supporters of modernism and were eager to bring this style to their summer home on Fishers Island, New York. The two-year project proved to be the most intensely collaborative process of Neutra’s career. He used a detailed questionnaire to learn his clients’ needs and desires for their home, and the Browns offered extensive, thoughtful responses. Mr. Brown, who had studied architecture, often sent back drawings with his own alterations, while Mrs. Brown was responsible for selecting most of the interior paints and furnishings.
Windshield’s design reflected elements of the International Style, with flat roofs, large expanses of glass, and simple geometric forms, but also demonstrated the importance Neutra placed on client input, new building materials, and adjusting modernist principles to reflect particular regions and landscapes. One of Neutra’s most significant decisions was his choice of horizontal wooden clapboard, covered in shiny aluminum paint, for the exterior of the house. Neutra, with the enthusiastic approval of the Browns, also used many new building materials, including aluminum frame windows (one of its first uses in home building), rubber floors, and two of Buckminster Fuller’s prefabricated Dymaxion bathrooms (only nine were ever built).
This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, “Richard Neutra's Windshield House,” represent the first time the actual floor plans for the house have been displayed and published. His published plans of the house did not show the actual final floorplan, with the distinct, separate rooms that the Browns requested, but rather the open floor plan that Neutra had originally favored. Brown stated “…I feel the beauty of the design to be entirely satisfying” but he added there were some areas that “still leave room for improvement.” The rubber floors and the silver colored painted surfaces proved extremely difficult to keep clean, and the Dymaxion bathrooms were plagued with plumbing difficulties for as long as the house existed. The house was severely damaged when the roof was ripped off by a hurricane in September 1938, only a month after completion. The house was soon rebuilt and the Browns spent many summers there. In 1963 John Nicholas Brown gave Windshield to the Fishers Island Club, which later sold it to Michael Laughlin.
The experience of creating Windshield and the challenges identified before and after its construction impacted Neutra’s evolving beliefs about architecture. Neutra later described his work on Windshield “as a high point of my way through life.” Today, Windshield lives on through this exhibition and accompanying catalogue that includes essays by Dietrich Neumann, Thomas Hines, and J. Carter Brown, the second of the Browns' three children.
Windshield: Richard Neutra’s House for the John Nicholas Brown Family will also be at the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh from March 1 - May 25, 2003.
The exhibition was organized by the Harvard University Art Museums in collaboration with the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and the Harvard Design School, and is sponsored in part by the Graham Gund Exhibition Fund, Harvard University. The curatorial team is comprised of Dietrich Neumann, professor of architectural history at Brown University and chief curator of the exhibition; Thomas Michie, curator of decorative arts at The RISD Museum; and Brooke Hodge, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and former director of lectures, exhibitions and academic publications at the Harvard Design School.
The Neutra exhibition at the National Building Museum was organized by Ramee Gentry, coordinating curator; Cathy Crane Frankel, director of exhibitions and Elizabeth Kaleida, exhibition designer, and is made possible by gifts from The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., Christie’s, Bunty and Tom Armstrong, Heather and Richard Cass, and James Madison Cutts LLC.
The National Building Museum, created by an act of Congress in 1980, is a private, non-profit institution that examines American achievements in building through exhibitions, education programs and publications. The Museum is developing a permanent exhibition, Building America, to explore the achievements and qualities that are quintessentially American in our built environment. The Museum is located at 401 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
(Courtesy of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design)Richard J. Neutra: Windshield House for John Nicholas Brown. View from northeast (final version). Sketch, September 1937
(Courtesy Dion Neutra, Architect, and UCLA Special Collections, Young Research Library, Neutra Papers)West façade showing music room and master bedroom, July 1938
(Courtesy of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design)View from southwest (early version). Sketch, Fall 1936
(Courtesy Dion Neutra, Architect, and UCLA Special Collections, Young Research Library, Neutra Papers)View from northwest, ca. 1939
(Courtesy UCLA Special Collections, Young Research Library, Neutra Papers)Music (living) room, September 1939. Photographer: H. Harold Costain
(Courtesy Dion Neutra, Architect, and UCLA Special Collections, Young Research Library, Neutra Papers)Master bedroom
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