With it’s an octagonal design that’s part Jetsons, part Bond, John Lautner’s Chemosphere House is considered a masterpiece of California Modernism. Perched on concrete poles, the home is reached via an inclined cable railway. The landmark Chemosphere home in the Hollywood Hills and its owner, publisher Benedikt Taschen, were profiled in a 2005 Home cover story. “What was great about Lautner is that he had this dualism about nature and the city,” Taschen said at the time, noting that one side of the house was “pure nature,” with skunks, bobcats, coyotes and deer, while the other side was “pure city,” the vast San Fernando Valley.
The career of the maverick architect John Lautner (1911-1994) spanned more than six decades, yet he is little known outside the architecture world, even though his buildings have starred in movies like “Diamonds are Forever” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Man’s relationship to nature and the universe intrigued Lautner and informed his designs, from coffee shops to plans for endless cities. Unfolding from the hills, nestled in canyons, or hovering above city skylines, Lautner’s residential projects have had influence on some of today’s most important architects — Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas, among them.
Chemosphere House, 1960, Los Angeles, USA, by John Lautner
Long overshadowed by modernist contemporaries Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, John Lautner and the homes he built in Southern California are set to receive unprecedented attention thanks to the publication of a book published by Rizzoli. The book details Lautner’s inspirations, philosophies and legacy, not the least of which is the Chemosphere, originally derided by some critics as a silly fantasy.
Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, Edited by historian Nicholas Olsberg
Buy it here: Amazon
Gio Ponti designed the Villa Planchart, a private home built in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1956. Ponti designed the interiors in a remarkable fashion; he selected (and often designed) furnishings, decorative objects, and even articles of daily use. The modernist principle of integration of the arts with the architecture was naturally carried out in this building.
As well as carefully planning and executing the relationship between architecture and landscape, Ponti believed that “architecture is made to be looked at.” It is public landscape. “Facades are the wall of the street, and a city is made of streets; the facades are the visible part of the city, they are all of the city that appears.”
Villa Planchart, Caracas, Venezuela, 1956, by Gio Ponti.
More: Harvard University Graduate School of Design
For over a century, wooden gabled grain elevators, known as Wheat Kings, have defined the Canadian prairies. They are faintly anthropomorphic, with a pointy head, sloping shoulders, and stout torso. But one by one, they are vanishing, going the way of the small-town railroad station and manned lighthouses.
The first grain elevator sprang up alongside the tracks of the newborn Canadian Pacific Railway at Gretna, Manitoba, in 1881-four years before Riel’s Northwest Rebellion. By 1933, close to 6,000 grain elevators dotted Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. These simple and durable railside appurtenances became focal points in prairie social and economic life.
But the consolidation of small farms into mega-farms and the abandonment of railway branch lines spell the end for the traditional elevator. Today’s farmers increasingly ship their grain by long-haul tractor-trailer to regional “high-throughput grain handling centres” where super-efficient, steel and concrete plants each do the work of a dozen old-style elevators.
Fewer than 1,200 prairie cathedrals remain standing, a handful may survive as heritage artifacts. The rest will succumb to demolition crews.
Flickr Set: I Love Grain Elevators
One of the best known and most admired buildings in the City of London, the current Lloyd’s building is the eighth home of Lloyd’s in its 300 year history. This icon of modern architecture was designed especially for Lloyd’s, by Richard Rogers Partnership, to a very specific brief of quality, flexibility and presence. The building was built over eight years from 1978 to 1986. Its focal point is the gigantic Underwriting Room on the ground floor, which houses the famous Lutine Bell.
Lloyds of London Building, by Richard Rogers Partnership
Widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture, Walter Gropius’s first large building, the Fagus Shoe Factory in Alfred on the Leine in 1911 was materialized due to his connection with Peter Behrens and in cooperation with Adolf Meyer.
The client’s wish for an attractive facade was solved by Gropius in a special way: by means of a projected steel skeleton, which pulled the function of support to the inside, thereby making possible a broad dissolution of the exterior envelope into glass walls; the idea of the ‘curtain wall’ was at this point first expressed in a consistent manner.
— from Udo Kultermann. Architecture in the 20th Century.
Fagus Shoe Factory, 1911, by Walter Gropius with Adolf Meyer.
Santiago Calatrava has combined sculpture and the dynamics of architecture with the power of engineering for a residential tower in Malmö, Sweden. Calatrava’s design for the Turning Torso is meant to be seen as a free standing sculptural element inspired by the human body, and evolved from one of his sculptures in an exhibition. Nine cubes, twisting 90 degrees from bottom to top, will rise 45 stories topped with a glass-enclosed floor for meetings and special events, and a rooftop observation deck with vistas to Copenhagen.
“There was a wish to get something exceptional, I also wanted to deliver something technically unique.” – Santiago Calatrava
A building whose brief called for a “family house with hanging space for paintings, while avoiding the appearance of an art gallery,” Maison Carré is one of the most important private homes designed by Alvar Aalto, the distinguished Finnish architect and father of Scandinavian modernism. Built in the late1950s, and situated some 40 kilometres southwest of Paris, the residence has now been acquired by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, it has now been opened to the public.
The house was commissioned by Louis Carré, a prominent French art dealer and gallery owner. After purchasing a piece of land in 1955, Carré contacted Aalto to ask whether he could design a new home for him. In the summer of 1956, Carré travelled to Italy where the architect was supervising the construction of the Finnish Pavilion for the Venice Biennale.
Some see Habitat 67 like and Ant hill or rabbit warren and others see a resemblance to a Taos indian pueblo village. While the visiting public was impressed, they didn’t embrace the concept. At a distance the complex looked like an exciting piece of Cubist sculpture, at close up it’s flat concrete-gray exterior looked dull and as if nobody lived there.
An experiment in apartment living, Habitat 67, became the permanent symbol of Expo 67 after it closed. It was Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s experiment to make a fundamentally better and cheaper housing for the masses. He attempted to make a revolution in the way homes were built – by the industrialization of the building process; essentially factory mass production. He felt that it was more efficient to make buildings in factories and deliver them prefabricated to the site. Prescient.
Habitat 67, by Moshe Safdie, for Expo 67.
The Alvorada Palace is Brazilian Presidents’ official residence. Surrounded by a large garden, the building is known for its white marble columns that have become a symbol of the country. Brasilia is the result of a modern urban project designed by Lúcio Costa, the Alvorada is one of a series of structures that Oscar Niemeyer designed for this city, many of these modern buildings appear on Brazils’ currency and in countless tourism brochures.
“You may not like Brasilia, but you can’t say you have seen anything like it — you maybe saw something better, but not the same. I prefer Rio, even with the robberies. What can you do? It’s the capitalist world. But people who live in Brasilia, to my surprise, don’t want to leave it. Brasilia works. There are problems. But it works. And from my perspective, the ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.”
- Oscar Niemeyer
A suave pioneer of curvaceous concrete, toying with the limits of engineering while injecting sex and surrealism into Le Corbusier’s famous machine for living, he designed some of the most audacious, sublimely poetic and occasionally goofy buildings of the 20th century.
- NY Times Magazine
Alvorada Palace, by Oscar Niemeyer
One of the best known houses in the history of Modernism is not a house at all, but an elaborate movie set. Created entirely at MGM studios in Culver City, California for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, North by Northwest. In 1958, when the movie was in production, Frank Lloyd Wright was the most famous Modernist architect in the world. His magnum opus, Fallingwater, was conceivably the most famous house anywhere. His renown in the Fifties was such that mass-market magazines like House Beautiful and House & Garden devoted entire issues to his work. Hitchcock instructed the set designers at MGM to design a house in the Wright style, by its creation, the image of the Vandamm House became an icon of Modernism in architecture.