Sunday, August 3, 2008

Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner at the Hammer Museum

John Lautner, Mar Brisas Residence, Acapulco, Mexico, 1973.
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission.
Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.
Photo by Julius Shulman.

The Alluring Spell of the Sleek and Seductive

I figured that I would begin this Lautner post with a quote from the indisputable champion of architectural polemics, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, but you may know him as Le Corbusier. It was Le Corbusier who once stated that: "I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies." If you've read my past reviews, it's obvious that I constantly stress the importance of drawing and it's relevance to the cultivation and refinement of an idea or concept.

John Lautner was a phenomenal draftsman and had a way of conveying his many ideas on paper. His drawings allowed clients to visualize not only what the final outcome would be, but also the atmosphere and ambiance that the space would create. The idea of what you would see and experience beyond the structures was always at the forefront of his work.

John Lautner, Study; Alto Capistrano development project 1963–69, graphite on paper.
The John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
© The John Lautner Foundation.

The core of the exhibition is comprised of rarely seen archival materials and drawings from the Lautner archive. The various renderings and blueprints are carefully laid out on individual, drafting table-inspired pedestals, which cast a spotlight on the notion of an architect in a studio environment. Surrounding some of the drawings were strategically placed models. Ranging in scale, the models provided a three-dimensional reference point for the contemplation of how these structures would play out on their respective landscapes.

John Lautner. Construction drawing; section and elevation, Chemosphere (Malin) 1960, graphite on arch vellum.
The John Lautner Archive, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
© The John Lautner Foundation.

The most well-known of his commissions was the Malin House (1960), more commonly referred to as the Chemosphere. This mushroom cap-shaped structure is not your typical hideaway in the hills. The house was originally built for Leonard Malin and his family. Malin was a young aerospace engineer who acquired the precipiced parcel from his father-in-law. He also played a principle role in several important aspects of the house's development, mechanical systems and construction. While the terrain proved almost impossible to tame, Lautner came up with a fairly rudimentary solution -- place the entire structure on a single, free-standing column.

John Lautner. Chemosphere (1960), exterior shot at night.
Photo by Joshua White.

The Theme Building (1961) at LAX, designed by Paul R. Williams (while he was working for the well-known firm of William Pereira & Charles Luckman), is based on the same principle. The two intersecting arcs have very little, if any bearing on the structural integrity of the building. If you look closely at the image that I provided below, you can make out the concrete center post that carries the weight of the structure and creates the ever-so-recognizable hovering effect that we've all come to know and love. Whether one knew of the other's projects or not cannot be confirmed, but it does make for a striking comparison, with respect to innovative engineering of that period.

Paul Williams standing in front of the Theme Building (1961) at LAX.

A profound sense of lyricism and conviction could be found in Lautner's works. His work bridged the urban and the rustic , the wild and the tame, the real and the supernatural.The Mar Brisas Residence (1973) in Acapulco, Mexico captures the imagination in a way that no other Lautner structure does. The house hovers above the ocean and gives off an impression of flight without having your feet come off the ground. The water-moat rail surrounding the residence merges with the ocean and sky, further cementing the idea of unity within a given environment. The sculptural qualities of the house, from the rhythmic roof line to the sleek concrete arcs that make up permanent table-tops, benches and bridges, conveys the feeling of being in a well-choreographed ballet.

John Lautner. Mar Brisas Residence (1973), Acapulco, Mexico.
Photo by Joshua White.

In conclusion, John Lautner rocks, so go see this exhibition!

The exhibition is on view at the Hammer Museum from July 13th-October 12th, 2008; 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Westwood; Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 11 a.m.-7 .p.m, Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Closed Mondays, and all legal holidays; (310) 443-7000; $7 Adults, $5 Seniors (65+) and UCLA Alumni Association Members with ID; Free for Museum members, students with ID, UCLA faculty and staff, and visitors 17 and under accompanied by an adult; Free on Thursdays for all visitors.