As a new film and major exhibition celebrate his life and work, Paul Dale discovers why Europeans are finally switching on to the impact of maverick architect John Lautner
os Angeles. it's a wonderful town. Along
with environmental goddess Rachel Silent
Spring Carson‘s Pennsylvanian dreams. and renegade architect Michael Reynolds‘ radically sustainable New Mexico homes. LA stands out in the USA as a home to awe- inspiring architecture — more precisely the architecture ofJohn Lautner. Don‘t imagine for a moment that you don’t know Lautner‘s work. If you've ever seen Diamonds are Forever. Brian De Palma‘s Body Double or Pulp Fiction or played Grand Theft Auto then you have been in and around his iconographic creations. Some of the buildings he designed are known by their futuristic nicknames — ‘the Chemosphere'. ‘Silvertop‘. ‘the Elrod house‘ and 'Marbrisa‘ — but it was not to the future that Lautner looked for inspiration.
The truth is that Lautner remains a mystery to us Europeans. Bom just before the Great War on the banks of Lake Michigan and trained by the legendary American architect and interior designer Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesen
studio in Wisconsin (as one of the ﬁrst group of
18 THE LIST 5-19 Mar 2009
Taliesen Fellows). the bulk of Lautner’s remarkable body of work exists largely in the forests and byways of Los Angeles. a city he purported to hate.
As Frank Gehry points out in Scottish filmmaker Murray Grigor’s excellent new film about Lautner. Inﬁnite Space. the man was the missing link between Lloyd's humanist. organic architectural movement and the shooting forms of Zaha Hadid and her like. His radicalism is at odds with. and yet oddly concomitant to. that of Ayn Rand‘s ﬁctional architect Howard Roark from The Fountainhead — the self righteous egotist whose genius made him both a loner and a romantic maverick.
The Lighthouse‘s new exhibition takes its title from Midgard — an old Norse term for ‘between heaven and earth”. It was the name his Irish immigrant (and. inexplicably. Norway-phile) parents gave the lakeside house he helped them build in his childhood. and a major inspiration for everything that followed. Grigor believes Lautner’s work is ripe for rediscovery.
‘Lautner is the maverick in the whole