Between Earth And Heaven: The Architecture Of John Lautner

by | 28. Aug 2012

Exhibitions and Events

John Lautner (1911-94) grew up in the north woods, grounded in the observation of nature. His great subject was the uncovering of space, and in its exploration of structures and shapes that would accomplish that task, his work was shockingly original.

Photo: Julius ShulmanJulius Shulman Photography ArchiveResearch Library at the Getty Research Institute

Standing on a site, I seek its particular and unique expression with all the senses….until the natural setting, the character of the owners, and the design harmoniously become a single idea.
/John Lautner

Lautner’s adventures in structure, line, siting, and materials were undertaken in a quest not for effect but for spatial poetry. Believing that a building should awaken a transcendental understanding of the environment through conversation with its setting, he sought an architecture in which the sublime becomes familiar and the familiar sublime.

Between Earth and Heaven journeys through Lautner’s world of ideas: their genesis, growth, and complex interactions. What we discover is a mind at once disciplined and structured, yet subtle and fluid. This is reflected in an architecture that is rigorous and at the same time flexible. The tension makes the subsequent histories of his completed buildings especially interesting.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White

The exhibition looks in depth at 6 works that capture – at different scales, in different topographies – the essence of Lautner’s conversation with space.

Beyer Residence, Los Angeles, 1983
At the Beyer Residence the concrete structure straddles a rocky point on the Malibu shore, following the form of the rock pools, waves, or clouds to shape space, bringing a fixed and sheltering room into conversation with mobile, ever-changing vistas of sea and cloud.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White

Elrod Residence, Palm Springs, 1968
For this residence, on a rocky spur above Palm Springs, Lautner excavated the lot eight feet under the boulders and sand “to make a design built into the rock and desert” using the geology as part of the structure.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White
Drawing © The John Lautner FoundationThe John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research InstituteStudy: graphite, red pencil on paper
Turner Residence, Aspen, Colorado, 1982
A snowdrift in winter and a grass mound in summer, simply a concrete roof in the form of a small segment of a sphere.

Photo © The John Lautner Foundation
Drawing © The John Lautner FoundationThe John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research InstituteConstruction drawing; section and elevation, graphite, blue pencil on paper

Walstrom Residence, Los Angeles, 1969
Lautner chose to build in timber for this modest two-bedroom house on the south side of the Hollywood Hills.

The separation of the house from the hill is achieved by resting the wooden frame on a concrete foundation at street level and on two anchor beams that slope into the hillside, allowing him to eliminate all retaining walls and leave a vertical clear space inside.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White
Drawing © The John Lautner FoundationThe John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research InstituteStudy: graphite on tracing paper

Pearlman Mountain Cabin, Idyllwild, 1957
This weekend house was designed for listening to music played against the alpine landscape. The gigantic boulder on the narrow steep lot presented a massive challenge.

Lautner sat on the great rock for an entire day slowly imagining a lightweight open cylinder taking shape around him; a circular platform for a floor, floating just above the boulder, the flat gray disk of a roof dropping gently over it, stripped tree trunks used as giant supporting posts, part of a sunburst, in a zigzag mitered wall of glass that opened to the view, and much of a moon, in a curving wall set against the hillside, covered like a cave in cement plaster and ending at a focal hearth.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White

Chemosphere, Los Angeles, 1960
Lautners most ambitious attempt at demonstrating a repeatable standardized dwelling system was both heralded and scorned by the international press as a space-age form. Chemosphere was not only a reasonable solution to working on a 45-degree slope, it was also an eminently workable economic model for the efficient living capsule of the future.

Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White
Drawing © The John Lautner FoundationThe John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research InstituteConstruction drawing; section and elevation, graphite on arch vellum.

Marbrisa, Acapulco,1973
This villa is essentially a small portion of an inverted cone, anchored against the cliff.

Its main space, floating out towards the diaphanous light and vague horizon of the Pacific, is an open deck.

Bordered by a swimming channel and spilling out at its ocean side to a freely molded edge, the floor takes an increasingly irregular form as it stretches out towards the sea. A vast flying canopy curves upwards to draw the breezes, shield the tropical sun, and meet the sky.

Photo: John Lautner © J. Paul Getty Trust
Photo: Joshua White
Photo: Joshua White

As concerned with modest homes or roadside diners, as with luxury retreats, Lautner invested every project with the same generous “feeling of freedom.” This led to an increasingly radical sense of continuity between the spaces he built and the world around them, and to a revolutionary fluency in shaping and structuring space.

The exhibition was curated by historian Nicholas Olsberg and architect Frank Escher.

The exhibition will be on view through October 12, 2008

If you happen to be in Los Angeles on October 12th the Hammer Museum has organized a tour to the Sheats/Goldstein Residence (1963). It is well worth taking.

Photo: arcspace

An international tour for Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner will include The Lighthouse, Centre for Architecture, Design and the City Glasgow, Scotland, March 19 – July 26, 2009; the Wolfsonian – Florida International University in Miami Beach, Fla. October 15, 2009 – January 17, 2010; and the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs, Ca. February 20 – May 23, 2010.

A richly illustrated and comprehensive full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition.



CITYLos Angeles, California