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Architectural Therapy According to Richard Neutra
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From Hippocrates to Sigmund Freud, brilliant minds have always sought to cure humankind’s neuroses. But what if the answer to anxiety wasn’t actually found in therapy or pharmaceuticals, but in architecture? As wild as it sounds, Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra, proposed just that.
Neutra’s career took off rapidly in 1930’s and 40’s as he designed dozens of visionary homes for wealthy, mostly West Coast clients. Unsatisfied with commercial success alone, the architect was framing a deeper, more ambitious vision for his life’s work. Neutra believed that the environments in which we live have dramatic, long-term impacts on our psyche.
William Wundt (1832 - 1920), a pioneer of experimental psychology, laid the groundwork for mapping the connection between our physical environments and mental well-being. Neutra carefully studied Wundt’s magnum opus, Principles of Physiology Psychology. It was in these pages he first explored the “linking of the body and mind” or in other words “the pairing of the physiological and psychological.” Elaborating on the concept, Neutra began to define is own philosophy of “biorealism”: “bio” derived from Greek, meaning life, and “realism” noting that physical spaces must be built for how humans really behave in practice.
So how does one go about designing a home that seamlessly connects the physical and psychological? It sounds lofty. For Neutra the answer lay in a fluent relationship between interior and exterior. This of course, was a tenant for many of his modernist contemporaries. However, Neutra took the concept a step further by seeking to unlock the “mental interior” as well. He went as far as building out elaborate physician-like client files based on “client interrogations”. One format he frequently employed utilized two columns, one with the heading “Client Need,” the other, “Architectural Response.”
“The architect is a physiotherapist and an economist; he can certainly support vitality and health of his clients.”
-Richard Josef Neutra
So did living in a Neutra-designed home cure all anxieties for the lucky residents? Likely not. But the pursuit of harmony between home and resident feels like a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless.