For fans of the Organic

Beton Brut

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May 25, 2006
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A recent email from the John Lautner Foundation:

Foundation Gives Archive to Getty Special Collections

As many of you know, the Lautner archive is in a storage building. The hundreds of plans, models, photographs, and other materials are deteriorating daily. Preserving these important materials is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. The Foundation board ultimately determined that it was unrealistic to attempt the preservation and long-term management of these materials on our own.

After much discussion and negotiation, the Foundation therefore offered the archive to the Getty Research Institute: Special Collections. This research center contains Frank Lloyd Wright and Julius Shulman materials. Because the center is based in Los Angeles, where most Lautner buildings are located, and because the materials will be properly cared for and made available to the public upon request, the Getty center is the ideal repository. Fortunately, the center has expanded to the point where it can accommodate a collection of this size as well. Karol Lautner Peterson, Foundation president, signed the contract with the Getty in May 2007.

The Getty is just getting started with the months of fumigation, cataloging and preservation needed to preserve the materials properly. During this time the archive will not be available. Do not contact the Getty to request materials until we announce that the collection is available again.

If you are interested in seeing how the materials will be made available in the future, visit the Getty Collections website and review the information there about the other collections.

Hammer Museum to Launch Exhibit on Lautner

The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles is mounting an exhibit of John Lautner's works, scheduled to open in July 2008. The co-curators of the exhibit are Nicholas Olsberg (former director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and curator of over one hundred exhibits) and Frank Escher (member of the Foundation board of directors, principal in Escher-GuneWardena Architecture, Inc., and editor of John Lautner, Architect). These two have developed fascinating plans for an exhibit unlike any other. The Hammer says it will be their major exhibit of that year.

Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner will be the frist large-scale museum exhibition devoted to Lautner. The exhibit will feature original sketches, study models, working drawings, and construction photography, along with large-scale models of six projects, built specifically for the exhibit. The exhibit will incorporate new film showing the natural backgrounds of the project sites as well as the natural environment Lautner knew in his youth. Documentory filmmaker Murray Grigor's new short films of the six projects will take us through the buildings, giving a sense of actually being there.

Supporting the themes of the exhibit will be archival materials representing the six projects plus nearly fifty additional homes, commercial buildings, and unrealized projects. The goal of the exhibit is to help visitors respond to the installation much as they might to the buildings themselves.

The museum will produce a catalogue of the exhibit, a full-color, hardcover book published by Rizzoli International. It will contain nearly 200 images and be about 240 pages in length, and include many previously unpublished photographs, drawings, and other materials. The book will contain essays by the curators and a third text by architecture critic and historian Jean-Louis Cohen, Solow Chair for the History of Architecture at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

While the museum is solely responsible for the design and contents of the exhibit, it could not mount it without original archival materials from the Foundation. The Foundation therefore entered into an agreement with the Hammer for the use of these materials, and the Hammer and Getty coordinated efforts so that the materials needed for the exhibit would be separated from the remainder of the archive during the time the Getty is cataloging and preserving the materials. At the end of the exhibit the materials taken from the archive will be given to the Getty to retain.

Part of our agreement with the Hammer is that we will not mount any fund-raising events during the time that the exhibit is in development, to assure that Lautner architecture supporters are not confused by simultaneous events. This agreement does not prevent the Foundation from accepting donations offered freely to it, of course, at any time.

We expect a significant increase in interest in Lautner's works after this exhibit opens, and are working to accommodate that interest by increasing the size of our web space and adding more material to it. Many of you have been asking for more pictures for a long time. If you maintain a site that focuses on Lautner, we'd love to add a link to our site. Let us know. If you have royalty-free photographs that you'd love to see on our site, send them along!
Off to the West Coast tomorrow morning to catch the first two games of the Sox-Padres series...I'll be in LA tomorrow afternoon on a Lautner-safari...Tons of stuff above Sunset and on Mulholland -- I'll be clicking away...I've packed two cameras and a Garmin...I plan on cranking some Jane's Addiction (or maybe Lutosławski) and cruising up the coast to Carbon Beach...Hope to get some shots of John Lautner's Segal House, 1979. Formerly owned by Courtney Cox & David Arquette, purchased last year by our old pal Frank McCourt.
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I'm off to the West Coast a week from today. I'll be paying a visit to the Lautner exhibit at the Hammer, but that's not the half of it. Bringing cameras and the MacBook -- wait til you see what I'll be posting. Don't ask how, but I'm getting inside some of these houses.
^ Can't wait to see them.

Who designed the house used in North by Northwest?

The house at the end of the film was not real. Hitchcock asked the set designers to make the set resemble a house by Frank Lloyd Wright, the most popular architect in America at the time, using the materials, form and interiors associated with him. The set was built in Culver City, where MGM was located.

I think imdb has more on this, but I'm to beat to look.

EDIT: Found the info on the Vandamm house, ablarc.
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I also dig the house that is destroyed at the end of Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. While searching for the info on Hitchcock's Faux-ganic set-piece, I came across this blog entry, attributing the Zabriskie Point house to Paulo Soleri. I tend to think this attribution is apocryphal -- it looks nothing like any of Soleri's other work.
I'm really looking forward to your report from L.A., Brut. Anything else on your itinerary, aside from the Lautner stuff?
Hanging in San Diego for a few days with a college friend. Monday Night Football, Chargers-Jets. This'll be an ugly night!

Hoping to tour the Salk Institute with their Purchasing staff. It's kinda work related, but I'll do the architecture tour too -- Kahn rocks!

Might go to TJ. Might not.

Coaster up to LA. Staying at The Standard, Hollywood.

Lautner, then more Lautner. Dodgers-Padres game at Chavez Ravine. Dinner with a buddy from grad school, now making arty horror films.

Bachelor party & wedding in San Dimas (I understand their high school football team "Rules!")

Fly back out of Long Beach Airport, a cool art deco miniature that ablarc will love.
So my mind is officially blown. I just toured the Sheats/Goldstein House with Duncan Nicholson, a Lautner protege who's currently working with the owner, Jim Goldstein, to expand Lautner's vision. Duncan's a great guy, a real gentleman who extended me every courtesy. I took tons of photos that I need to go through.

Also need to plan my afternoon. I'm going to try and see a couple of Wright homes, and want to see what they've done up at the Griffith Park Observatory -- Deco fans rejoice.
Here's a few shots. I'll expand this set and improve the annotation later. Lot's more pix to take before tonight's Dodgers game.

For now, enjoy!


Concrete & glass "stepping stones" to entry.


Living Room


Hearth (NB: Chimney mass is not a load-bearing structure)


Coffered ceiling -- the "micro-skylights" are highball glasses, pushed through the wet concrete. Interestingly, the triangular grid (essentially a concrete space-frame) is not made up of equilateral triangles. I'd no idea until I walked into the room. Duncan also told me the initial plan was for a steel and fiberglass roof. I can't imagine this home in a material other than concrete.


Another view of the coffers and the dappled light from above.


View from the terrace.

More to come.
I'm posting the rest of the "take" from LA this weekend. Some stuff from last year as well. Hope to have it all up Sunday night.
And the second Charlies Angels, and a Pam Anderson Playboy layout, and an Andrew Blake porn flick.

Wait til you see the rest, van.
So here's some more from the Sheets/Goldstein House. Take a stroll with me...


View of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and the skyline of Westwood.


Opposite side of the terrace. Note the glasses embedded in the concrete roof.


Detail of glasses.


And another.


Frameless butt-joined sawtooth glass of the master bath, below the terrace. Lautner often used sawtooth glazing as a method to reduce glare and mirroring, all to accentuate the blurring of inside and outside.


Spa, with retractable teak deck.


Master bedroom "prow" with the Westwood skyline. Those windows open -- 30' drop.

More to come.
Lots of beton brut in your photos, Beton Brut. The single-family house was Modernism's greatest architectural contribution, and ironically it's what caught on least of all.

Thanks for your story on the Vandamm House. Always wondered about that.

Look forward to more. :)
The single-family house was Modernism's greatest architectural contribution, and ironically it's what caught on least of all.

It breaks my heart, but you're right. When you consider scale of a single-family home, the austerity of Modernism becomes its strength. Many owners of Usonians initially resisted Wright's constrained (but certainly not confining) spaces. I don't recall the client who said, "It's like moving into a hotel, where everything you need is already there for you" (or something like that).

Lautner took what Wright showed him and went his own way, off the paved road, off the map, into the uncharted. His early homes are modest, but there is a searching quality to the work, like Beethoven's Rasumovsky Quartets, a testing of the efficacy of new materials, concepts, and values. Some homes turn inward to a hearth or water-feature, others explode outward into the landscape, or function as a viewing platform (or instrument), culmnating in the rightfully famous Malin House, the Chemosphere. Among the more interesting things to be discovered at the Hammer Retrospective (closes 10/12) is that the unbuilt concepts for the Malin House were all good solutions.

Critics have never gotten Lautner. As recently as the September issue of Architectural Record, Martin Filler submits a pissy little diatribe that dismisses the value of Lautner's oeuvre on the grounds that he often worked for the wealthy. And he uses Oscar Niemeyer and Bruce Goff, architects that Lautner admired, as sticks to beat him with.

Intellectual dishonesty chaps my ass.
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And now back to some pictures...

Let's look at some details:


Glass coffee table, with reverse beveled edge (no hard corners)


Master bathroom, glass shaving sink.


Random-shaped "porthole" into the master shower.


Daybed and "prow."


Glass terrace with view into the tropical ravine -- plenty safe to stand on, but don't slip.


Sink in the guest bath -- am I indoors or out?


Well, both...

Tomorrow, we'll walk down the hill, to Jim Goldstein's personal planetarium/chill-out room, a James Turrell Skyspace.
Sorry it's taken me a few days to get back to this. Let's take a walk down the hill...

These stairs and two other courses lead down the hill to a private terrace, and another private space. Each step is cast in place by human hands with a random edge. The rise is 7" to 7 1/2" (they have to fudge it in some places to allow for the terrain. Suffice it to say, they're not to code. Lautner did the same think at Arango (exterior) and Wolff (interior).

My shots on the way down the hill taken hastily, and not in the best lighting conditions, so I'm not going to bother posting them. But I did capture this interesting shot, the only part of the house that's visible from the road up to the driveway.


Bedroom "prow" -- remember, those windows open, floor to ceiling.

And now things get even more interesting. Jim Goldstein is a very rich man, and he indulges himself fully in things that please him. Some of you may have heard of the light artist James Turrell. Lautner intended to collaborate with Turrell, but Lautner died in 1994; a few years ago, Duncan Nicholson picked up the baton and constructed (what appears to be) a simple concrete building down the hill form the main house. The opening roof is carbon-fiber, and was helicoptered to the site for installation. Inside is essentially a personal planetarium/chill-out room. I wish my photos better conveyed the experience -- the sound system itself is mind-blowing.







Back up the hill, a few parting shots.


I wish I had a better shot of this element. This is the foot of the third triangle that makes up the origami-like roof. The sharp end slices right into the hill, supporting the folded elements of the coffered ceilings.


Redwood soffit and retractable skylight, view into the dining room, toward the living room and chimney mass.


Library, with Corbu lounge. Jim obviously likes to read.


Gallery outside the library. This will lead to the large addition (guest house, office, and "night club") that is currently in construction. Duncan's been working on refining the design for a few years.


Model -- not sure how close this is to what's being built.

In all, walking through these spaces was a revelation. The efficacy of any design can only be truly understood by experiencing the space, allowing it to shelter you, and if you're fortunate, inspire you. The drawings and models I saw at the Hammer only told part of the story, and at times confuse more than they reveal. In an era of "paper" (or digital) architecture, this home (and its many, varied brethren) have all the power of natural (or even supernatural) phenomena.

Hope you enjoyed. More Lauter and Wright to come, but alas, only exteriors.
With all the Lautner photos I've posted, let us not forget the Wright had been in LA since the 20's. His eldest son (Frank) Lloyd Wright(, Jr.) was an important figure in LA, designing many fine homes, as wall as the Wayfarers Chapel and the Hollywood Bowl. John Lautner went to LA in the late 30's to work on a couple of Wright projects, before he hung out his own shingle.

So here are shots of a few iconic Wright homes, in chronological order.


The Aline Barnsdall "Hollyhock House," at golden hour, from the "great lawn." Wright designed the home, but delegated most of the construction responsibilities to Rudolph Schindler and his son.


ablarc talks about the blending of styles to create new ones. Hollyhock House is such a blend. To say it's Mayan-influenced is a bit simplistic. The flowing, open floor-plan of the house is derived from Wright's Prairie period, but many of the ideas (skylights, water features) would become the basis for LA modernism. The geometric ornament feels like a Wrightian premonition of American (i.e. Late-30's) Art Deco.


The monolithic look of the cement plaster exterior is tough to maintain; this is exacerbated by the LA's all-too-frequent seismic events.


Planter -- still hate precast concrete?


Finials with the Hollyhock motif -- is Wright evoking Gothic crockets?


Drained reflecting pool, looking through the inner court and into the living room. The contained, often view-framing spaces would influence Lautner and his peers at mid-century.


Pergola with banquette seating. Like most theatre-folk, Aline Barnsdall really liked to party.


Exterior lamps. Can we get a dozen of these for the front of the mandarin?


Many plaques to tell you where you are.

On to the textile-block homes.


First, a quick shot of the Storer House, on a twisty part of Hollywood Blvd, from the window of my shitty rental car. Purchased in the 80's by film producer Joel Silver, the house has been completely restored by Eric Lloyd Wright; Duncan Nicholson worked on the project.

On to the more ambitious, and precariously sited Ennis-Brown House. Damaged by the 1989 Northridge Earthquake, and nearly destroyed by the rains of 2004-2005, the house is undergoing a multi-million-dollar restoration.


From the lawn at Hollyhock House.


View from the street. Lot's of love is still need, but the monumental quality and the heady blend of styles are evident beneath the grime.


The repaired southern facade and retaining wall -- old and new blocks blend together.


Detail of the living room mass -- do they have Botox for buildings?

And on to something very different, a true original. John Lautner left Taliesin in late 30's to work on Wright's Sturges House. This tiny, two-bedroom Usonian sits on a steep hill in Brentwood Heights. It is the father of the Chemosphere, and all of Lautner's "observatory" houses.


The approach. The lapped redwood siding hides a narrow deck, beneath the pergola. A rank of plate glass door offer a commanding view from the living and bed rooms.


From the street. The brick mass of the chimney serves as a counterweight for the deep cantilever; kitchen and baths are concealed within. Carports at the top of the driveway.

More Lautner to come.

Then Chicago, from Labor Day, 2007.