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You Must Cover Your Eyes to See this Amazing Library


I Don’t think I’ve ever suggested that someone bring a blindfold when going sightseeing, but then I never made it to the Huntington Beach Central Library until a few weeks ago. The library, a spectacular work by Richard Neutra and his son, Dion, completed in 1975, is a hidden gem of sorts and also the newest pick for Our series on the world’s most beautiful libraries. The last project before the iconic architect’s death, he envisioned it as his crowning achievement.

A blindfold (and a guide, I suppose) is necessary because as you pull up to the library, you might question why you’re here. Like all things in life that need to be endured in order to achieve something better, here you must endure the addition of the 1990s before the front entrance. The real Neutra journey begins inside at a twisting ramp with kraters used to function as fountains. This used to be the external entrance to the library – the lavish staircases seem to be one of the few frills the International Style architects allowed – and from there one enters what should be. one of the more unique libraries in existence.

Unique because while there are so many specific libraries around the country – especially on university campuses – that we’ve gathered together derisively as atrocities, to peruse the work Neutra’s work and saying the same would be a serious misreading. In this space there is whimsy, perhaps too much, and softness. In fact, it is a building worth considering. Neutra was a proponent of the architectural style he called realism. Which do not receive too in the weed, let’s say Neutra is obsessed with the idea that the built environment, i.e. houses, offices, etc., has a serious effect on one’s mental and physical health. As a result, every architect owes their client to design the space with that enormous responsibility.

William O’Connor’s photo

Neutra was born in Vienna in 1892 and raised in a family around Freud and Klimt, and he studied under Loos. He is famous for letting clients submit questionnaires before designing their spaces. Asking your client to detail their daily routines etc before designing them a home may seem normal now, but it wasn’t then. So it might not seem remarkable for an architect focused on bringing nature into the built environment as much as possible, but Neutra is ahead of this curve because in research and experience. In my experience, time spent in nature is very good for everyone’s health. .

“Our living space should not be separated too much or too long from the green world of organic!” he say.

The two things that one might notice first when wandering through the Huntington Beach Central Library are plants and water – lots of plants and lots of water. There are whole trees, planted when the library was built, towering over the reading areas. The large windows also look out onto reflective pools that no longer reflect (more on that later) to the leafy areas of Central Park. There are also multiple swimming pools – the sound of water flowing throughout the building in Neutra’s design is very relaxing and also means that kids won’t need to be quiet.

“I hate when you go to the library, ‘Ssshhh, you have to be quiet.’ It is very unnatural for children,” said Dion Neutra explain Many years later. “So I put a series of fountains inside so that the noise level is high and natural enough so that when the kids come in, they can talk in a normal voice.”

The spiral ramp entrance is currently inside the house.

Huntington Beach Central Library

It’s also good for books that need a little moisture. Today’s inner pools all have railings, but they were initially unprotected – very dangerous for people walking and reading.

There are four stack levels at the core of the library, which, along with different platforms for reading, give the entire space an Escher-like quality. Spending hours wandering through the shelves of a library is a sure route to chance, and here I would imagine a child really feels like they are. discover these stacks. There are some unique touches if you look closely – there’s a mesh elevator, which I can’t recall seeing in the library before; most of the space is naturally lit by both large windows and skylights; and the wooden lathes on the ceiling are actually metal and have never had to be replaced. (They were originally thought to be teak.)

Neutra said to LA time in 2001. “You won’t fall asleep or get bored, like you do under artificial light. People thrive in a dynamic environment. Whenever you can change happens, that will energize you. So you get subtle changes with skylights. ”

Nearly all of the building’s exterior flair comes from the surrounding pyramidal roof and bronze windows. The bronze windows are now largely seen as a false cladding from the 1970s and 80s, but Neutras saw it as another way to bring nature into the building – the additional reflective glass would capture the trees. and the surrounding landscape. On a clear, sunny day, walk down to the lake, and you can see it as people who first saw it announced nearly 50 years ago saw it, sparkling and reflecting everything around it. – a glass and concrete pavilion on a hill.

When it was completed in 1975 (at a cost of 5 million dollars), the library has been praised by critics.

Locally Daily pilot, an editorial noted that “A lot of people have written and talked about the new Huntington Beach central library, but one word sums it up — beautiful. This is the best library in Orange County and possibly the most beautiful library in the country. ” In Orange County Illustrated, the reporter was out of breath declare, “The results were amazing. A building, simply a building, is a work of art. ”

inside Times, a columnist at the time “that trying to subjectively describe the feeling I had when I first visited the new Huntington Beach Public Library was like trying to write about a piece of music great music that must be heard to appreciate.. It has an eloquence all of its own. “None other than Leland Cooley gave it greatness in its Southern California endorsement—“It has great vibes.”

But the author also notes that “you might think you’re in an empty warehouse.” The stacks are empty, because in fact when it opens, 90% of them have no books! Rather than being a temporary setback, it’s a sign of the many outrages this great piece will have to deal with.

Richard and Dion Neutra won the project in 1970 based on sketches and preliminary ideas, but two weeks before the signing, Richard died. (Among the other companies beat for this project was William Pereira, who designed Geisel library looks like a spaceship.) This is his third library, and in fact, one of his previous library clients, Simpson University in Iowa, has written to Huntington Beach’s librarian.

“May I extend my congratulations and sympathies on your choosing Richard Neutra as the architect of your new library,” the letter read. “I have the greatest respect for Mr. Neutra, both as an individual and as a creative artist, and I feel he has done an outstanding job in our library. However, I still tend to shrink back a bit when his name comes up in conversation… Our biggest difficulty comes from his lack of library knowledge… he tends to make assumptions based on other types of buildings”.

Another letter that the library’s archivist was pleased to share with me came from the Director of Libraries of the Los Angeles Public Library, who revolved around some of the central issues of Neutra’s design – the stacks of multi-tiered books in the core library. Frank would be a brief way of saying its tone. They wrote: “Parents will be confused, and then actually unload,” he declared, “The multi-tiered stacks are not aesthetically pleasing. Brackets are hardware. Working librarians will resent this building from the day it opens. ”

The final plans and final results of the project are the work of his son and close partner Dion, one of those rare sons who seems more content with his father’s shadow than trying to escape. from it. But Dion has a flair of his own – for example, he has a microwave relay tower installed in the library. (The clocks on the wall near the reference desk are vestiges of that plan.)

In a letter to the winning selection committee, Richard and Dion wrote, “We clearly see in it a wonderful achievement of our lifelong work that has always combined landscape work with architecture. bamboo.”

Despite the fanfare, just a year after opening, its budget was slashed. “Everybody loves the library, but no one wants to pay for it,” speak a city councilwoman. Proposition 13, passed in 1978, hit the city budget heavily, and libraries are not exempt. Its reflecting ponds and fountains are Turn off. In 1980, Dion Neutra even wrote to LA time entreat turn the water back on. Unfortunately, today, outdoor water features are still drained.

As the 1980s ended, it was determined that the library needed to be expanded. In what was said to be a very bitter defeat, Dion Neutra was defeated by an expansive attempt to preserve his family’s vision. While many lessons have been learned in the decades since (see, for example, the relatively modest expansions completed by Rafael Moneo at Cranbrook or Frank Gehry at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), the years 1990, the addition of the Huntington Beach Central Library was modest.

“I haven’t been able to sleep for a few nights,” said the head of the city’s Historical Resources Department told a local newspaper. “The library is a cultural and architectural landmark” and the new design that hits its front “wipe out” Neutra’s design. “It really will be destroyed,” she sighed.

Unfortunately, yes. But, wreck? From the perspective of library patrons, that’s clearly not the case, and that’s the most important thing. And for those of us who love the library and Neutra and architectural travel, this addition is not stopping. It’s just an exercise in something we’ve all been a little erroneous about in this age of delayed gratification.



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