Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home

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By Jenny Xie / Published by Dwell
Presented by Nest
In John Lautner’s Garcia House, Nest, Dwell, and Airbnb invited the Los Angeles design world to consider our current crossroads with technology and architecture—and the social impact of design.

Southern California represents a certain mode of living, and Los Angeles—with its diverse makeup, sprawling streets, and wealth of sunshine—is in many ways the epitome of that. From a design lens, Los Angeles is replete with iconic homes built by architects who were drawn to another aspect of the city’s DNA—its culture of exploration and experimentation. We had the chance to tour many of these homes, from Harry Gesner’s Sandcastle to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. Last month, Dwell returned to John Lautner’s Garcia House to host a night of architectural appreciation, celebration, and conversation in partnership with Nest. 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 1 of 9 - A mainstay of Southern Californian living, a pool had been included in Lautner's original plans, but it wasn't until homeowner Mcllwee and architect Radziner came along that it was actually realized. 

A mainstay of Southern Californian living, a pool had been included in Lautner's original plans, but it wasn't until homeowner Mcllwee and architect Radziner came along that it was actually realized. 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 2 of 9 - A realtor nicknamed the residence "The Rainbow House" for the colored glass that punctuates its arched walls. In the living room, where the panel was held, daylight casts a red streak into the kitchen and dinette area.

A realtor nicknamed the residence "The Rainbow House" for the colored glass that punctuates its arched walls. In the living room, where the panel was held, daylight casts a red streak into the kitchen and dinette area.

Lofted on stilts 60 feet above the canyon on Mulholland Drive, the Garcia House—so named for Russell Garcia, the composer, arranger, and conductor for whom it was built in 1962—provided a panoramic view of Los Angeles. With the sun setting on this impressive backdrop and streaming through the glass panes of the arched structure, the scene was a testament to Lautner’s sensitivity to site and location.

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 3 of 9 - A Nest Cam Outdoor perches above the entrance to the home. Designed to weather any climate, the camera streams 130 degrees of high-definition video 24/7. Advanced algorithms detect activity, and homeowners can even receive special alerts when the camera sees a person.

A Nest Cam Outdoor perches above the entrance to the home. Designed to weather any climate, the camera streams 130 degrees of high-definition video 24/7. Advanced algorithms detect activity, and homeowners can even receive special alerts when the camera sees a person.

When the current homeowners John Mcllwee and Bill Damaschke purchased the residence in 2002, they enlisted architecture firm Marmol Radziner to restore the original design while incorporating modern technology, such as wireless controls for lighting and shade. Today, both indoor and outdoor Nest Cam security cameras provide the homeowners with peace of mind, and Nest Learning Thermostats further regulate the intuitive home. They also installed Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, which communicate what and where the danger may be with a friendly, human voice. 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 4 of 9 - The guest bedroom also enjoys its own arched view with a colored glass panel.

The guest bedroom also enjoys its own arched view with a colored glass panel.

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 5 of 9 - Radziner updated the cabinetry with stained walnut and replaced the countertops with honed, black granite that maintained the look of the old formica.

Radziner updated the cabinetry with stained walnut and replaced the countertops with honed, black granite that maintained the look of the old formica.

Fittingly, the panel facilitated by Dwell president and CEO Michela O’Connor Abrams revolved around the potential ways in which technology will shape the trajectory of architecture, and the necessity of inclusion within that future. Rocky Jacob, head of industrial design at Nest, highlighted the optimism of Californian design and how that informs the adoption of technology: "How can we use design to shape wellbeing? A lot of these values are the foundation of how we try to approach technology. I think a great example is: this house was built decades ago, and our products integrate really well with it because of the materials we chose and the way they interact with the home. Yes, Nest products are futuristic, but they still work with the past."

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 6 of 9 - President and CEO of Dwell Michela O'Connor Abrams introduces introduces the panelists: Christopher Hawthorne, architectural critic at the Los Angeles Times; Jennifer Siegal, founder and CEO of Office of Mobile Design; Cameron Sinclair, head of social innovation at Airbnb; and Rocky Jacob, head of industrial design at Nest.

President and CEO of Dwell Michela O'Connor Abrams introduces introduces the panelists: Christopher Hawthorne, architectural critic at the Los Angeles Times; Jennifer Siegal, founder and CEO of Office of Mobile Design; Cameron Sinclair, head of social innovation at Airbnb; and Rocky Jacob, head of industrial design at Nest.

Today’s vision of democratic design emphasizes affordable and communal housing, viable transportation, and technology.

This sense of connection to the past was also noted by Cameron Sinclair, head of social innovation at Airbnb. "Surprisingly enough, when you talk about smart homes, what’s been really interesting is the emergence of the marriage between technology and collective living," he said. "In Los Angeles, there are a number of smart tech communes where millennials are living in these very open spaces, and what were once grand homes in the optimistic dream of the 1960s are inhabited by a new optimism." Today’s vision of democratic design emphasizes affordable and communal housing, viable transportation, and technology. In America’s current conservative climate, the panelists agreed, design and architecture have an even more impactful role in shaping communities.

"Some of the work we’ve been doing is around belonging," raised Sinclair as an example. He described Airbnb’s initiative to alleviate the refugee crisis with the help of its global community—raising funds, supporting technological solutions, and providing housing. "Your first night out of a refugee camp, you’re in a home with an American family, learning, ‘This is what it’s like to live here, and this is what it’s like to be a part of a community.’" 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 7 of 9 - "There is a kind of forgotten history of experiments in communal living in modernist architecture," said Hawthorne, first on the left. "Part of the challenge now is to look back at those models where they're appropriate and incorporate new technology." 

"There is a kind of forgotten history of experiments in communal living in modernist architecture," said Hawthorne, first on the left. "Part of the challenge now is to look back at those models where they're appropriate and incorporate new technology." 

"I’m interested in the ways we embed technology into the built environment and how we think about bringing those two worlds together," said Jennifer Siegal, founder and CEO of Office of Mobile Design. "The physical, the virtual, but ultimately, the soulful." Jacob reiterated the ineffable importance of good design: "The way that you live, the objects you surround yourself with, have a tremendous affect on your mood and wellbeing." As disrupters of the home automation and hospitality industries, respectively, Nest and Airbnb remain at the forefront of an ongoing conversation about how to create more thoughtful communities—communities that benefit from technology and home-sharing to not only take care of the people inside them, but the larger world as well. 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 8 of 9 - Kai Loebach of Kai Events catered the party, offering hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.

Kai Loebach of Kai Events catered the party, offering hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.

"I’m interested in the ways we embed technology into the built environment and how we think about bringing those two worlds together." - Jennifer Siegal 

Tackling Big Design Questions in an Iconic Home - Photo 9 of 9 - A touch of the California landscape is illuminated by a series of pendant lights—the two lowest bulbs are original.

A touch of the California landscape is illuminated by a series of pendant lights—the two lowest bulbs are original.