Photo: Vintage Seekers
The Californian landscape wouldn’t be the same without the photogenic, iconic buildings of architect John Lautner; his soaring glass and concrete mansions, imbued with playfulness and optimism of the mid-century spirit, are as much a part of the state’s architectural heritage as the Golden Gate bridge.The celebrated designer, who lived from 1911 to 1994, would have turned 100 this week, and to mark this milestone, the John Lautner Foundation is organising a series of film screening, tours, and exhibitions, beginning on his actual birthday, July 16.
Michigan-born Lautner was trained by the father of American modernist architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright. Like his mentor, the progressive, even space age forms of Lautner’s buildings fuse drama with functionality and a humane ethos. After seeing the architect’s first solo project, a house for his own family, in 1939 the architecture critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock remarked, “Lautner’s work could stand comparison with that of his master.”
By the middle of the 20th century, Lautner hit his stride and his design vocabulary of geometric forms, engineering feats, and stunning vantage points was firmly established.
The living room at the Foster Carling House (1947) pivots on a turntable to transform itself into an outdoor patio overlooking the lights of the city. Equally theatrical, the four-bedroom house, Chemosphere (1960), is shaped like a hexagonal flying saucer and perched atop a single hollow concrete column.
Lautner was also adept at exploiting materials to make his structures sensuously blend into their surroundings. At the Marbrisa residence (1973) a pool of water flows through, around and out over the edge of the structure to mirror the serene natural beauty of Acapulco Bay. Elsewhere, he often uses expanses of glass walls to seemingly merge the leafy outdoors with a minimalist modern dwelling.
No wonder his striking, modernist masterpieces appear in so many movies; they’re a director’s dream. For instance, in the 1971 James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever,” the Elrod Residence appears as the location a battle between 007 and two female assassins, Bambi and Thumper.
A hundred years after his birth, Lautner’s buildings remain as captivating and inventive to modern eyes as they were for mid-century America originally.
Visit www.johnlautner.org for the full schedule of the centenary events.
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