Los Angeles Landmark: 2000
Lautner designed this building as a family residence for Lenord Malin an aerospace engineer in his twenties. Malin inherited the land that is now occupied by Chemosphere from his father-in-law . The Southern California Gas Company sponsored the heat in exchange for using the house in its advertisements. The Chem Seal manufacturing company also provided space age manufacturing technology normally used in the aerospace industry during a time in which the former Soviet Union and the U.S. were competing to send a man to the moon.
The Chemosphere contains a nineteen foot in diameter, three foot thick pole like foundation that is settled underneath the rocks in the hill. Attached to it, is a five foot in diameter, twenty nine foot high concrete column containing a two foot hallow for water supply and sewage flow. The column supports the sixty foot in diameter octagon shaped platform made out of steel and wood. To provide more foundational stability for the octagonal structure, eight metal beams that are attached to the column under the home slant outward and are attached to the octagonal home. Whether metal beams are supporting the roof or the bottom of the structure, all the beams are slanted upwards and are attached to the octagon structure. Each one is positioned around the column giving the structure a circular motion type of effect.
The home itself contains a living room, fireplace, a skylight in the middle of the living room, a large living room, dining room, and kitchen. The northern portion of the house where the living room, dining room, and kitchen are built faces the city. The other half of the structure containing multiple bedrooms faces the hills. The structure almost becomes a manifestation of the tension between the city encroaching upon nature, and the home becomes the balance of both with a sense of aesthetic motion that is symbolic of the possibilities of technological advancement.
completed in 1960.
The Chemosphere seems to magically be floating up from its site overlooking the hills of Southern, CA. It is sited in a suburban setting.
The structure Chemosphere adapted usage of metal, glass, and concrete under the modernist sensibility of maintaining minimalist functional order as seen in how the the structure is supported and how the glass windows of the home capture the natural landscape of Southern, CA hills. As Natalie Haddad mentions in her article entitled “John Lautner”, Lautner differed from Frank Lloyd Wright because of his primary usage of concrete for his structures instead of stone and wood typically found in Wright structures. The interior ceiling highlights the wooden arches that are shaped like the octagonal shape of the home. Instead of ornate or a classical structure normally associated with the aristocracy, the color patterns in the interior of the home depict shades of brown, and a functional interior design that signals an aesthetic geared towards the working class despite the fact that most of Lautner's homes were built for the well off in Los Angeles.
After WWII, the emergence of the Cold War produced an American culture obsessed with the space race supported a futuristic aesthetic. By the late 1940s, John Lautner designed the Googie Coffee house (built in 1949) launching the style Googie architecture. According to Alan Hess, in the journal entitled “ The Origins of the Golden Arches”, in the “1950s Southern Californian strip-oriented coffee shops, bowling alleys, gas stations, car dealerships, motels, and car washes” adopted the Googie futuristic style. Hess also makes the argument that the first Mcdonalds (built in 1953), with its triangulated shape roof and sleek use of glass, help spread the Googie style. These structures often used geometric shapes to show the illusion of motion, and mirrored an almost Jetson cartoon like space age aesthetic. Chemosphere has an octagon shape mirroring a circular spacecraft, and is ultimately a marriage between space age manufacturing and the natural surroundings of the Southern, California hills. Symbolically, the aesthetics of Chemosphere mirrors the prosperous national obsession with the possibility that awaits America's entrance into the space age in the 1960s. The structure, with its circular shape, is reminiscent of a space craft about to enter the orbit of space. The production of the structure resembles the desire that manufacturing companies had to use natural resources and man made products in Los Angeles to support a space age aesthetic geared towards American progress during the beginning of the Cold War.
The Chemosphere home, being built on a Southern, CA, hill and breaking away, in terms of shape, from the triangulated homes of the Hollywood Hills, perpetuate a type of Los Angles lifestyle. The Chemosphere home, like many of Lautner's homes, sold a type of secure LA lifestyle that suited the literal natural terrain of Southern, CA. Those who lived in such homes literally owned a piece of space that balanced a client's desire to see nature while allowing him/her to maintain a city sensibility. The aesthetics of the interior of Chemosphere suite a working class sensibility and functionality as seen in how the interior uses geometric shapes that perfectly articulate the shape of the home. Clients like Malin (the first owner of Chemosphere), and Leo Harvey (owner of the Harvey House and self made millionaire) were either coming from the middle/working class and gained their riches later in life.
As a former student of famed modernist architect Frank Loyd Wright, John Lautner's structures are often placed in nature like settings as if to convey how futuristic homes can serve functional purposes when placed in the middle of nature. Lautner worked mostly in Los Angeles. As captured by Marlene Laskey in an oral history where John Lautner talks about his structures, John Lautner expresses that Chemosphere took a “little under 10 years” to finish. In the Los Angeles context, Lautner homes married industry with modernist sensibility in a landscape that was metaphorically seen as a untouched natural aesthetically beautiful untouched space regularly illuminated by the sun and the landscape. The aesthetic nature of Chemosphere comes in the form of the usage of a octagonal geometric shape, and the metal beams of the structure coming from the column or base of the house is reminiscent of the triangular shaped homes in parts of the Hollywood Hills. The structure also uses the landscape to assert its dominance, while perfectly integrating into the landscape. Spatially, the structure reconciles the tension between the city and nature by giving the inhabitant the advantage of seeing the landscape from the inside of a modern home.
Lautner's Chemosphere is iconic of the midcentury L.A. lifestyle. It became one of the most important and often referenced LA modernist structures in Southern, CA. It defined Lautner as an innovative Los Angeles modernist architect and in 2000 Angelick Taschen gained the 2000 Los Angeles Conservancy award for her effort towards restoring the home to its original glory.
The popularity associated with Lautner's homes, especially the emphasis placed on Chemosphere, sprang up during the late 1990s as a result of several of his structures being torn down. The preservation of many Lautner homes can be attributed to the John Lautner Organization and the Los Angeles Conservancy. This desire to preserve Chemosphere and document its innovative architectural style, comes from the fact that the home itself is emblematic of Los Angeles modernism. Visually, the structure suggests flight, capturing a Space Age aesthetic sensibility that became a major part of mid-century American Pop culture.
Alan Hess, "The Origins of the Golden Arches", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 45, No. 1, 1986, pp. 65, http://www.jstor.org/pss/990129
Frank Eschen, Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, New York, Random House; 2008;978-0-8478-3014-5
Marlene L. Laskey, Responsibility, Infinity, Nature: (Oral History of John Lautner), Los Angeles; The Regents of the University of California; 1986; http://www.archive.org/details/responsibilityin00laut
Natalie Haddad, “John Launtner”, Frieze Magazine Issue 121, 2009; http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/john_lautner/
Peter Gossel & Gabrielle Leuthauser, Architecture in the Twentieth Century, Slovenia, Taschen; 2001; 3-228-1162-9
Scott Timberg, “Architecture: Eight Side to This Story”, LA Times, Los Angeles, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-taschen7apr07,0,5529467,full....
Triangle Modernist Inc. John Lautner, 2007-2011, http://www.trianglemodernisthouses.com/lautner.htm