In the context of Richard Meier’s career, the house he designed for Klaus and Ursula Neugebauer is both emblematic and exceptional. On the one hand, it exudes the diagrammatic clarity common to the single-family houses he had designed over the previous three decades (beginning with the house for his parents in Llewellyn Park, in West Orange, New Jersey). On the other hand, the Neugebauer House’s dramatic butterfly roof is almost unprecedented in an oeuvre marked almost entirely by flat roofs.
The house is laid out linearly across the widest edge of a 1.28-acre triangular waterfront lot. Major spaces, such as the living areas and the bedrooms, face west toward the water, while a layer of service spaces (the kitchen, bathrooms, and closets), along with a single-loaded corridor, form an opaque bar facing the entry court. The asymmetrical butterfly roof opens dramatically toward the water, which is visible through a double-height wall of glass extending almost the entire length of the 7,500-square-foot house. The glass wall is broken in two places—a passageway and a small porch—to divide the house programmatically between the living areas, the owners’ bedroom suite, and the guest bedrooms. A long lap pool mirrors the glazed west facade, and adds another layer in the sequence of parallel spatial elements.
The unusual (for Meier) butterfly roof is a concession to local building regulations, which mandated pitched roofs but did not specify the exact kind of configuration. Meier used the dramatic gesture to bring spatial unity to the major programmatic spaces, and to emphasize the experiential sequence of the site, which begins in the perfectly flat, grass-lined confines of the entry court and proceeds through the spatial layers of the house before opening onto an expansive view of Doubloon Bay, an inlet just off the Gulf of Mexico.
The Neugebauer House stands in sharp contrast to its neighbors in Port Royal, an exclusive neighborhood of large houses in Naples. Surrounded by an eclectic group of mansions draped in various revivalist garb, the Neugebauer House is an elegant essay in formal composition and spatial relationships. The building’s white palette reflects the subtly changing colors of the atmosphere and act as a foil to the rich color and texture of the landscape. Meier lifted the house onto a low podium above a continuous carpet of grass. On the street side, the approach to the house is shaped by two simple geometric forms: a cylindrical garage detached from the house, and grove of twenty-five royal palms laid out in the same fifteen-foot-square grid that Meier used to compose the house’s plan (and which is continued along the waterfront in the form of a row of live oaks).
The Neugebauer House makes few concessions to the region’s subtropical climate. The building’s great glass facade faces west, toward the view of the bay, leaving the house vulnerable to significant heat gain. Meier employed brise-soleil to help moderate the intense sunlight entering the house. Yet like Le Corbusier, from whom he developed much of his formal vocabulary, Meier seems comfortable leaving large expanses of glass exposed to the glare and heat gain of the low, western sun.
Jodidio, Philip. Architecture Now! Los Angeles: Taschen, 2001.