March 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm

The Chemosphere by John Lautner [1960]


The building stands on the San Fernando Valley side of the Hollywood Hills, just off of Mulholland Drive. It is a one story octagon with around 2200 square feet (200m2) of living space. Most distinctively, the house is perched atop a concrete pole nearly thirty feet high. This innovative design was Lautner’s solution to a site that, with a slope of 45 degrees, was thought to be practically unbuildable. The house is reached by a funicular.

The lot had been given to a young aerospace engineer by his father-in-law; despite his own limited means, the engineer, Leonard Malin, was determined to live there. The building, which the Encyclop√¶dia Britannica once called “the most modern home built in the world”, is admired both for the ingenuity of its solution to the problem of the site and for its unique design.

In 1976, the house’s second owner, Dr. Richard Kuhn, was stabbed to death at his home in a robbery by two men, who were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Because of a concrete pedestal, almost 20 feet (6.1 m) in diameter, buried under the earth and supporting the post, the house has survived earthquakes and heavy rains.

By 1997, the interior had become run down; for over 10 years it had been rented out and used for parties and as a result the interior finishes had undergone major and anachronistic alteration. Because of its unique design it proved to be a difficult sell and had sat on the market for most of its time as a rental property.

Since 2000, it has been the Los Angeles home of Benedikt Taschen, of the German publishing house Taschen, who has had the home restored; the only current issue with the home is the higher cost of maintenance. The recent restoration, by Escher GuneWardena Architecture, won an award from the Los Angeles Conservancy.
The house forms part of a retrospective of Lautner’s work which was shown at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles between August and October 2008.

The house was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2004. It was also included in a list of all time top 10 houses in Los Angeles in a Los Angeles Times survey of experts in December 2008.

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