Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner defined 20th century Californian architecture. Lautner started working with Frank Lloyd Wright and later designed iconic buildings such as the Malin residence/“Chemosphere” (Hollywood, 1960); the Garcia residence (Los Angeles, 1962); and the Sheats-Goldstein residence (Beverly Hills, 1963/1989). These buildings have been featured in major Hollywood films.
The Chemosphere—whose name is tied to a corporate sponsorship that helped fund its construction—is an icon of Mid-Century Modern residential architecture. It was featured in the film “Body Double” (1984) and inspired the home of the villain in the film remake of “Charlie’s Angels” (2000). The residence was originally built for Leonard Malin, an aerospace engineer.
As with many of Lautner’s buildings, the landscape of the site inspired the final design, particularly the steep, nearly 45-degree slope that was considered unbuildable. Instead of building retaining walls out from the slope to support the structure, Lautner’s design hovers over the
untouched landscape, supported by a 30-foot-tall reinforced concrete column. An octagon-shaped building sits on top of the column, with a roof constructed as if it were the keel and ribs of a ship. These elements create an interior that is open and free from obstructed views of the landscape and beyond.
Perhaps the most-seen Lautner house is the Sheats- Goldstein residence. The films “The Big Lebowski”
(1998), “Bandits” (2001), and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003) are just a few of the many films that have featured the house—also a favorite of photographers. The centerpiece of the design is another concrete roof, which contains three folded, triangular surfaces. Two points touch the ground at different elevations, essentially creating a concrete sail. The interior coffered ceiling rises 18 feet overhead at the tallest point and dives down to almost six feet to allow for shade from the sun. More than 700 small drinking glasses were incorporated into the roof ’s design
to create tiny skylights. (Lautner considered this a way
to recreate the light of a northern Michigan forest.) The natural light also allows the concrete to once again appear weightless—similar to the Garcia residence, but this time trading organic forms for purely geometric ones.
The original clients, Paul and Helen Sheats, sold the house soon after it was completed in 1963. Businessman James Goldstein purchased it in 1972 and worked closely with Lautner on a series of projects to bring the design to perfection. Lautner was free to incorporate new technologies into the ongoing renovations, including concrete-and-steel furniture and a transparent sink that looks like a waterfall when in use and gives the user an uninterrupted view of the landscape.
One of Lautners grandest designs rose above Acapulco Bay in Mexico, where in 1973 the architect built a 25,000-square-foot home that seemed to float above the water. The Arango residence, also called Marbrisa, included an expansive open-air terrace with bedrooms on the level below.
The living room pavilion of the Elrod Home was originally enclosed in glass, but desert storm winds blew out the glass-pane walls in 1971. Lautner said he knew the blowout was a possibility, but he decided to take the risk. After the windstorm shattered the glass, the pavilion was left as a completely open space. The owner liked the effect so much that instead of replacing the panes, he asked Lautner to open the pavilion by designing retractable glass doors. There are now two mechanized 25-foot doors fabricated by an aircraft manufacturer.