The only European showing of the acclaimed exhibition, Between Earth and Heaven, the Architecture of John Lautner, opened to the public in Glasgow. The Hammer Museum exhibition, curated by Nicholas Olsberg and Frank Escher, is now on show in The Lighthouse
, Scotlands national Architecture and Design Centre, as part of its 10th anniversary season.
Devised by the Hammer Museum LA , Between Earth and Heaven, the Architecture of John Lautner draws on the substantial Lautner archive held by The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. It features rarely seen original drawings and plans, five 1: 1 models (created for the show) along with seven specially commissioned videos of Lautner houses by British film maker, Murray Grigor. The exhibition, which spreads over two galleries, runs from 20 March 26 July 2009.
John Lautners work is about the power of architecture to awake the senses -- how space can be shaped to excite awareness of light, movement, and vista within a building and evoke a feeling for the landscape, distances, and horizons beyond it. To do that, Lautner pioneered, long before their time, fluid and plastic approaches to built form that stretched structure and materials to their limits. Though his last major works were designed in the early 1980s, and his innovations go back to 1946, they continue to startle with the freedom and variety of their forms and plans, their structural originality and their sculptural force.
Like any significant body of work, Lautners follows a complicated path. Its turns and junctures derive from the changing practical conditions of his commissions, and they are advanced by developments in his internal thinking; but they also respond to powerful shifts in the dominant discourse of the day. His major built works cannot be divorced from the specific landscapes to which they react and which they do so much to shape. But at the same time, they always turn one facet outward to capture and cast reflections of a much wider discussion, particularly on domestic space and on the structural dimension of architecture
Born in 1911 the maverick architect, John Lautner, was raised in Marquette, Michigan where at the age of 12 he helped his mother and father build Midgaard (between earth and heaven), a wooden cabin on the shores of the lake. In 1932 he joined Frank Lloyd Wright as one the first group of Taliesin Fellows. Lautner had been attracted to Lloyd Wrights apprentice training by its marked contrast to the academic world - in a typical architecture school Lautner felt he would be graded for neat draftsmanship, which was never his forte, rather than ideas. Frank Lloyd Wright accented that you dont make sketches, you have to have an idea, and when you have an idea then you can put it down. Thats how I worked all my life.
Having completed his training Lautner stayed on in Taliesin, eventually leaving to work on a Lloyd Wright house in LA. His initial reaction to the city was not positive. I had been used to everything beautiful and here everything was ugly, and yet it was in this ugly city that he was to work for the rest of his life. Although he hated the city he knew he had to be in a place like LA to get the kind of innovative, imaginative clients who would hire him.
Most of the Lautner houses are timeless, because of the way there were designed, says Guy Zerbert, who worked as project architect with Lautner on over 30 major projects including the Malin House. They were designed taking the site into consideration, which was most important, and the original owner. When someone went to John they knew they were not going to get something ordinary, but something very special.
It is in the relationship of architecture to site that is found a unity in Lautners disparate designs. When my father would get a new client he would get a topo of the property, of the contours, and go up to the site, says Lautners daughter Judith in Grigors documentary. He would take a soft pencil and would mark all the aspects of the property that he could perceive whilst he was on the site. He would walk around and discover interesting rocks or plants or where the wind was, if there was an unusual view, and he would mark it on the topo. Then he would come back to the office and sit staring at it. He could sit for days thinking and then one day he would suddenly have the idea in his head, and he would take his pencil and scribble rough plans and sections, and jot notes over it. That is what he would hand it to the draftsman.
Lautner never thought of his buildings as objects in a landscape. It is always about the architectural space and how that relates to the landscape, says exhibition curator, Frank Escher. He was accused of doing arbitrary forms, but over a career spanning nearly 50 years he developed a level of precision in framing the view and directing the eye to the horizon. I cant think of any house other than Marbisa that has such a connection between space and the world, between form and construction. Here there is movement through space, and the space is anchored to the site. You are grounded on this and then look out onto the world. Mar Brisa is his masterpiece - not just one his best houses, but one of the most extraordinary houses of the 20th century.
As the architecture of domestic space seems poised to enter a new cycle of invention after many years of stagnationLautners work has a new relevance, for it manages to free the imagination without abandoning any of its rationality. Far from beingas they have sometimes been portrayedstartling but hollow exercises in architectural sculpture, his houses remain what he intended them to be: spaces in which life is enriched by the unique architectural idea that animates them.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically starting with the early works from his emerging practice in the 1940s leading through the most fertile period in the late 50s and the 60s to the last great work, the Turner House in Aspen (1982). The evolution of Lautners work is traced by the first comprehensive presentation of his drawings, sketches, studies and notes, along with five large-scale models and a series of films, that capture movement through the buildings and sites, showing the flow of internal space, the changing light and shifting palette and texture of the form. The visitor enters Gallery 4 to engage with the Earth. Here the exhibition traces the development of Lautners practice from Midgaard on Lake Michigan, which he built with his parents, through early projects like the Schaffer house and culminates in the Chemosphere. Ascending to Gallery 5 the exhibition then explores Heaven featuring keynote buildings including the Elrod House, Marbrisa and Turner House.
The Six key featured projects in the exhibition, which cover a range of time and radically different settings and scales, are each examined in depth. For each one rarely or never-before-seen drawings and study models from the Lautner archive are presented alongside a specially-fabricated model, moving images, and evocations of the landscape to which it speaks.
the Pearlman cabin, Idyllwild, (1957)
the Chemosphere, also known as the Malin House, Los Angeles, (1960)
the Elrod house, Palm Springs, (1968)
the Walstrom house, Los Angeles, (1969)
Marbrisa in Acapulco (1973),
the Turner house in the meadows of Aspen. (1982)
Ten significant built works - including the Sheats Apartments, the Midtown School, and the Schaeffer, Silvertop, Wolff, Garcia, Sheats-Goldstein, Familian, and Beyer houses - along with a number of astonishing unrealized projects, are presented via archival materials, showing how the ideas for the buildings were developed and unique solutions for each site and setting generated.
A further 25 other critical projects, (built and unbuilt), are also referred to in the exhibition. They demonstrate the evolution of Lautners approach, especially as it matured in the 40s and 50s, when the range of his projects for Los Angeles was vast from drive- ins and film studios to small houses on unbuildable hillside lots .