john lautner

About a week ago I found myself up late flipping channels and I came across one of those networks that likes to run “James Bond” movies back to back. 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever” happened to be playing starring my favorite bond, Sean Connery. (Pierce Brosnan…are you kidding me?) Anyway, as you may know, the film highlights the now famous Elrod house designed by John Lautner in Palm Springs (seen above). I’d seen the movie many years ago before my enthusiastic attraction to modernism and ridiculous want for a mid-century retirement home in the mecca of America’s famed desert playground. Seeing it again made me think about Lautner and left me wondering what other movies his architecture has been featured in and so takes me to this months Blog.

Unlike most of his contemporaries who came from Europe and the East Coast, Lautner was born in Marquette, MI in 1911. From 1933-1939 he worked under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin and Arizona. He worked in private practice in Los Angeles from 1946 where he boldly experimented with new industrial processes in what he terms his “continual search to answer total basic human needs, emotional as well as physical, in shelter.” Perhaps Lautner’s best known building is the Malin House of 1960, or simply the Chemosphere. This flying saucer shape perched on a single concrete column may look like futuristic indulgence, but it is also a very sensible solution for a small steep site. The one column foundation minimized destruction of the exisitng terrain and obviated the usual bull-dozing and retaining walls of hiillside building. The clear span interior of the hexagonal house leaves 1,300 square feet of uninterrupted living space and offers amazing views of the valley below. Chemosphere (seen on main page) has been featured in other Hollywood movies such as “Body Double”, “Charlies Angels”, and “Men in Black” to name a few.

The Garcia house in Los Angeles was featured in “Lethal Weapon II” which is the house Mel Gibson attaches to his pick-up truck with cables and pulls down the hill.
The Sheats-Glodstein residence in Beverly Hills was highlighted in the movie “The Big Lebowski”. In “Less Than Zero,” Robert Downey Jr. appears at Andrew McCarthy’s house, ravaged by drug addiction. Their conversation is already haunting, but Silvertop, the John Lautner house featured, imbues it with a sense of glamorous dread.

I may have other favorite mid-century (International Style) architects Koenig, Neutra, and Schindler but for good ol’ corn fed, midwest, American architects, it’s hard to beat Lautner. The architect hated L.A., but he gave it some of its most iconic architecture, which has enjoyed some serious screen time.

Click for Silvertop

Click for Garcia House

Click for Sheats-Goldstein

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