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John Lautner's Chemosphere House
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Once referred to by Encyclopedia Britannica as the “most modern home built in the world”, the ‘Chemosphere House’ deserves all the superlatives. Perched atop of 5-foot-wide, 30 foot concrete column, the octagonal home looks better situated for Mars than the Hollywood hills.
Architect John Lautner took on quite the task when he committed to design a residence for a young aerospace engineer, Leonard Malin. The first challenge was that Malin only had an initial budget of $30,000, minuscule even in the early 1960s. The second challenge; the selected home sight was located on a precariously steep 45 degree slope overlooking Los Angeles.
Working closely with his client, Lautner created an equally bold and imaginative solution. Rather than spending a fortune to excavate a level site, and build retaining walls and drains, Lautner thought better to build up. A 30 ft concrete column was devised to anchor and suspend the home along with support from steel struts. The concrete column, however, would support only the base rather than the roof of the residence itself. The inside of the structure would be a column-free open space, maximizing those epic views.
To make the skinny budget work, Lautner and Malin partnered with the Southern California Gas Company and the Chem Seal Corporation, inspiring the nickname, Chemosphere House. The corporations subsidized the build and contributed materials. In the case of Chem Seal Corp, this included experimental coating and resins for durability.
Malin and his family called the remarkable structure home for roughly 15 years before the house entered an era of tragedy and neglect. 1976, the Chemosphere’s second owner was stabbed to death in the home by a former lover and another man. Subsequent owners used the home as a rental space for various parties, photoshoots, and films. During the era, the condition of the home deteriorated and a number of anachronistic repairs were made. Then, in 1998, the home was purchased by legendary German publisher Benedikt Taschen. Along with Escher GuneWardena Architecture, the new owner completed a meticulous restoration of the home, drawing closely from original plans and notes from John Lautner.
The Chemosphere House is now designated as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument.