Yesterday was the great John Lautner's birthday. Here are eight things you may not know (or if you do, you're definitely an expert) about the Space Age visionary.
1. John Lautner (1911-1994) was born and raised in Marquette, Michigan. His idyllic childhood in the Upper Peninsula had a profound impact on the architect, forever shaping his relationship with the natural landscape. Lautner's dramatic, innovative approach to the integration of nature and architecture is due, in large part, to his time spent on the shores of Lake Superior.
2. Well-known New Jersey architect Joy Wheeler Dow designed Lautner's childhood home. Dow, best known for his book American Renaissance and his traditional, historical designs for the educated middle class, worked closely with Vida Lautner (John's mother) to design a Jacobean Colonial for the family.
3. Lautner was a Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte. The architect spent six years at Taliesin (East and West) working with Wright on a variety of projects, including Fallingwater, Wingspread, and a house for his mother-in-law, the Deertrack House. In the late 1930s, Lautner moved to California and continued to work for Wright, most famously overseeing construction of the Sturges House.
4. Lautner was a reluctant Angeleno. In contrast to the Lake Superior landscape of his youth, pre-World War II Los Angeles was a bustling, rapidly expanding city. At first, Lautner was skeptical of the gimmicky metropolis and its superficial architectural style. But the architect decided to stay, and the uninhibited, free-thinking city eventually became an ideal canvas for Lautner's experimental designs. Lautner would remain in Southern California for the rest of his life.
5. His first solo project, the Lautner House, was a critical success. In 1939, Lautner designed a small house for his young family. Kingmaker (and architectural critic) Henry-Russell Hitchcock called it "the best house by an architect under 30 in the United States."
6. While Lautner is most famous for his residential designs, he played an instrumental role in the development of the "Googie" style. Built on exaggerated angles, dramatic roof forms, and the bold use of glass, steel and neon signage, Googie architecture is a signature of the midcentury California zeitgeist. Lautner designed a number of seminal Googie icons, including Googie's Coffee Shop (the architectural style's namesake), Coffee Dan's, and Tiny Naylor's.
7. Hollywood has a love affair with Lautner. Over the years, a number of Lautner's buildings have been used in film, TV, and photography. Here's just a small sample:
the James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever (Elrod House), The Big Lebowski (Sheats- Goldstein House), Lethal Weapon 2 (Garcia House), A Single Man (Schaffer House), and The Outer Limits (Chemosphere).
8. Lautner won the Gold Medal from the AIA in 1993. Much deserved.
Over the course of a career that spanned more than 50 years, John Lautner left an indelible mark on the California landscape. His visionary approach to modernism is, perhaps, one of the most important in the annals of twentieth-century American architecture, while his ability to engineer spaces that seem both organic and futuristic remains a true testament to his unique genius.
Happy Birthday Mr. Lautner!
Image at top: By evdropkick (John Lautner's Chemosphere)
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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