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TO AUG. 18
A dead architect, a dead house, and a rich family: What, you may reasonably ask, is the point behind “Windshield: Richard Neutra’s House for the John Nicholas Brown Family,” the exhibition that opened last Saturday at the National Building Museum? Could it be Neutra’s signature Californian icehouses brought, out of context, to a summer home on a seaside site on Fishers Island, N.Y.? (Let’s just say his architecture gains a lot from Southern California’s vegetation.) Could it be his unusual (at the time, which was 1938) deployment of aluminum-framed windows, rubber floors, and Dymaxion bathrooms developed by Buckminster Fuller? Perhaps it is the house’s snakebit historythe roof flew off in a hurricane shortly after Neutra completed it, and the whole house burned down in 1973. More likely, the point is voyeurism. This show deals heavily in the “intensely collaborative process” Neutra undertook with his clients, John Nicholas Brown and his wife, Anne Kinsolving Brown, parents of Washington’s cultural eminence grise, J. Carter Brown, chair of the city’s Commission of Fine Arts. It presents plans, drawings, and correspondence between the architect and his clients and reveals their shared and unshared visions for the residence. (Neutra wanted an open floor plan; the Browns wanted enclosed rooms.) Most likely, though, this exhibition, a traveling leftover that originated at Harvard University, represents the Wallpaper generation’s fascination with Neutra, the Viennese expatriate who helped domesticate the International Style in Los Angeles. Will we ever get over our nostalgia for Neutra’s coolness? Maybe after we see this show and realize he is not a secret any longer. Maybe before. “Windshield” is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Sunday, August 18, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Free. (202) 272-2448. (Bradford McKee)