The Midcentury Architecture of California Modernist John Lautner

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By Luke Hopping / Published by Dwell
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Architect Helena Arahuete, a longtime colleague of John Lautner's, will discuss the midcentury modernist's legacy as well as her own work at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles on May 30. We've assembled a few of Lautner's most revered works in anticipation.

From A. Quincy Jones to Joseph Eichler, the California modernists are among the most celebrated figures in design, but few have crossed over into the broader cultural imagination as thoroughly as John Lautner. The Michigan-born architect, who passed away in 1994 at 83, etched his glass-and-concrete mark into the southern California landscape over the course of a career that spanned more than half a century. Today his work continues to inspire and challenge architects around the world. 

Lautner's magnum opus, the Chemosphere was once called "the most modern home built in the world" by the Encyclopædia Britannica. After decades of neglect, the octagonal home's interior finishes, guesthouse, and furniture underwent a historically sensitive restoration a few years ago.

Lautner's magnum opus, the Chemosphere was once called "the most modern home built in the world" by the Encyclopædia Britannica. After decades of neglect, the octagonal home's interior finishes, guesthouse, and furniture underwent a historically sensitive restoration a few years ago.

As an early apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner demonstrated his considerable ability while overseeing the construction of Wright's revered Wingspread residence in Wisconsin and designing the Drafting Room at Teliesin West. The two architects remained close throughout their lives. 

The cliffside Elrod House in Palm Spring's is pure concrete poetry. Interior designer Arthur Elrod commissioned the round residence in 1968, a time when glass and steel were the materials of choice for California modernists.

The cliffside Elrod House in Palm Spring's is pure concrete poetry. Interior designer Arthur Elrod commissioned the round residence in 1968, a time when glass and steel were the materials of choice for California modernists.

Upon exiting the program in 1938, Lautner set up his own practice in Los Angeles. His sharply angular, surprisingly functional approach is evident in such homes as the Silvertop, the Levy residence, and, of course, the Chemosphere, his film-and-television famous flying saucer house perched high in the Hollywood Hills. 

The home features a retractable glass wall for uninterrupted views of Palm Springs below.

The home features a retractable glass wall for uninterrupted views of Palm Springs below.

Lautner remained actively involved in large-scale projects until his death in 1994. 

Designed and built by Lautner in 1947, the four room Desert Hot Springs Motel in Palm Springs began life anew in 2008 when designers Tracy Beckmann and Ryan Trowbridge resurrected it as the Lautner Hotel. The desert escape was envisioned by Lautner as a model for a master-planned community that never came to be.

Designed and built by Lautner in 1947, the four room Desert Hot Springs Motel in Palm Springs began life anew in 2008 when designers Tracy Beckmann and Ryan Trowbridge resurrected it as the Lautner Hotel. The desert escape was envisioned by Lautner as a model for a master-planned community that never came to be.

Helena Arahuete, who began collaborating with Lautner on the Arango Residence in Acapulco in 1971, served as Project Architect on many of his later works, eventually rising to the position of Chief Architect at his office. Arahuete will be on hand at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles to discuss how she has continued his vision on many projects. 

Today the boutique hotel is outfitted with swanky midcentury furnishings, including a Milo Baughman sofa, a polished chrome coffee table by J. Wade Beam, a pair of Bertoia barstools, and a Thonet-inspired chair.

Today the boutique hotel is outfitted with swanky midcentury furnishings, including a Milo Baughman sofa, a polished chrome coffee table by J. Wade Beam, a pair of Bertoia barstools, and a Thonet-inspired chair.

Architect Helena Arahuete of Lautner Associates will discuss her life's work and Lautner's legacy at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles on May 30.

Architect Helena Arahuete of Lautner Associates will discuss her life's work and Lautner's legacy at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles on May 30.