From The International Herald Tribune...
"Neutra home expected to sell for millions
Palm Springs, California, house may command as much as $25 million at auction
By James S. Russell Bloomberg News
Published: March 5, 2008
In one of the most remarkable architectural photographs ever made, the 1946 Kaufmann Desert House, all horizontal planes and thin supports, glows against a backdrop of mountains at twilight.
The photo - taken a year after the Richard Neutra masterpiece in Palm Springs, California, was built for a department-store tycoon - shows the house in pristine condition. Yet over the years, it slipped into disrepair and not long ago was considered a teardown.
In May, Christie's International hopes it will command as much as $25 million at auction.
Christie's is gambling that the house's extraordinary pedigree will move it into the realm of art rather than real estate. Otherwise, its tract-house size (five bedrooms, 3,200 square feet) and unglitzy appointments (small bedrooms, ranch-house-style closets) would preclude such a stratospheric valuation. Only massive, super-luxurious estates charge this kind of price in Palm Springs.
Christie's senior vice president of 20th-century art, Joshua Holdeman, repositions the Kaufmann as "an iconic cultural product that happens to be a piece of architecture." It is an intriguing spin. After all, habitability sets architecture apart from visual art, a distinction that is critical in the case of the Kaufmann. Its value significantly relies on the powerful influence it exerted on U.S. lifestyles.
Neutra designed the house for Edgar J. Kaufmann, the Pittsburgh department-store executive who commissioned the world-famous Fallingwater from Frank Lloyd Wright. Anchored by a hefty sandstone chimney, the California house's interlocking, strongly horizontal planes in plaster, glass and sand-colored concrete pinwheel in four directions.
Skinny steel-tube supports barely interrupt the long wood ceiling planes that draw the eye outward to views of the rugged desert scattered with rocks and prickly cacti. Adjustable metal louvers the size of airplane-wing flaps cut the hot winds while filtering daylight and views.
Neutra made walls disappear with giant plate-glass doors that slide effortlessly on impossibly thin frames. In this way, he dissolves the threshold between inside and out, creating a seamless flow from house to garden and pool.
In the American mind, the architectural photographer Julius Shulman's endlessly reproduced twilight image helped shape a vision of California as a healthful paradise of informal living. (Shulman, still active at 97, is the subject of an exhibition, including the Kaufmann House image, at the Palm Springs Art Museum through May 4.)
Neutra's masterly use of space and materials can be fully appreciated thanks to the sellers, Beth and Brent Harris. The much-altered house had languished on the market for years. Priced as a teardown, they picked it up for the cost of the land.
Working with the Los Angeles architect Marmol Radziner & Associates, they took five years to restore the house as closely as possible to its original condition, down to the cork floors and ordinary bath hardware. The breezeway between the main house and the bedroom wing has been restored - a triumph of light and shadow, if hard to appreciate on a chilly winter morning.
The extraordinary result spurred the craze for mid-century modern furniture and homes. Palm Springs is rapidly becoming a pilgrimage destination for aficionados of '50s sputnik light fixtures and butterfly rooflines.
The buyer is unlikely to tamper with Neutra's design because that would reduce its value as art. Potential bidders, according to Tyler Morgan, the local agent for Christie's who showed me the property, "include people who collect architecture as art."
This rare breed is willing to snap up houses that require curators, not just housekeepers. Iconic modernist houses, like Mies van Der Rohe's Farnsworth House near Chicago, have sold for millions at auction.
"I hope the price is shockingly huge," the architect Leo Marmol said in an interview. Yes, he's self-interested, but he's making a big-picture point. A willingness to pay top dollar for architecture would help business owners and bankers see that design per se adds value. After all, you can build an entire museum wing for the price of a Picasso.
I want Marmol to be right, yet the Kaufmann house can speak as more than a work of art. I hope it will be lived in, by new owners, scholars-in-residence, architectural tourists or in some other way. You can visit a painting in a museum, yet this house cannot be experienced fully except through the day's changing light and long desert evenings shared with friends.
James S. Russell is Bloomberg's U.S. architecture critic. "
The house should be considered art and not another cut-out home. This was a truly unique period in architecture and what little of it exists should be preserved. We have so many excellent examples here in the desert and it would be a shame to lose one.