Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Lautner Tour: Jacobsen House, 1947

Last weekend I had the wonderful treat of participating in the special tour of John Lautner-designed homes that was jointly put on by the MAK Center and the John Lautner Foundation.  The whole thing was done in celebration of what would have been Lautner's 100th birthday on July 16th of this year.

I present them here in the reverse of the order in which I saw them on the tour, for a couple of reasons. First, by reversing the order, I will roughly present them in a chronological sequence from earlier career to later, which I think makes sense with this particular group of projects. Second, it makes little sense to lead with Sheats/Goldstein, since everything is pretty much anticlimactic after that.

One more introductory note: the MAK and Lautner folks who organized the tour did a great job, and produced a booklet for the tour with information about the houses. In my blog posts in this series, all the images are my own photographs, with the exception of one or two archival photos from the booklet, and the Lautner drawings which I scanned from the tour booklet.

The Jacobsen is on Multiview Drive, just below Mulholland Drive, overlooking the San Fernando Valley above Studio City and Universal City.  Multiview is a pretty good street for architecture; Schindler's wonderful Kallis House, with its butterfly roof and quirky stone fireplaces, is nearby on the same side of the street.

This is an early-career project for Lautner, dating from 1947.  According to Wikipedia, he had left Frank Lloyd Wright's employment and gone off on his own by that time, although he did not finally obtain his own architecture license until 1952.

So, this house is the work of an unlicensed individual who would have found himself in violation of California law had he have claimed to have been an architect. Ahem. Don't get me started.

The other houses on the tour were better concealed from the road; this house reveals itself pretty directly to you as you walk up the driveway:

I love the way that giant tree frames the view of the house from below.  So poetic!

Other than being a boxy, modernist house, there is a really obvious feature that distinguishes this house from nearly all others you will ever see: the large steel truss that seems attached to the side of the house like some mechanical or insect-like appendage.

The truss is actually acting as a column and holds up the roof.  The main upper roof is hexagonal in plan, and there are 3 of these truss-structures that support it.  Here is Lautner's roof plan, which gives you an idea of how it works. The 3 dark 'V's at the upper right, lower right, and left sides of the hexagon are the trusses.

The truss you see from the driveway is the one at the upper right in the roof plan. And here you can see how the high, hexagonal roof relates to the more boxy main level floor plan:

The truss on the left side, in the plan, comes down in the middle of the patio.

Here is Lautner's detail of the truss.  Notice it says "John Lautner Design" and not "John Lautner Architect" at the bottom.

Even the base plates were carefully designed.  They could have just as easily been dumb rectangles, but he shapes them.

Lest you think this house is just all about the structural design, as if that weren't enough, there are tons of beautiful details throughout this house. As I approached the front door, I immediately liked the way the wood siding is carefully mitered and turned in at the window and door openings. Typically this would just get covered with trim.

At the interior doorways we see similar attention to detail. No door trim to hide poor craftsmanship; just beautifully executed craftsmanship that stands on its own.

At the center of the house is this elaborate brick fireplace and inglenook. The shaping and placement of it really emphasizes the openness of the house to the patio (shown above) and the view.

This might look like another view of the Jacobsen house, but it's actually the house next door, where Lautner employed the same structural system.  The two houses share the driveway.

And that's about it for the Jacobsen house.  I really enjoyed it.

It's not the tour-de-force that a lot of Lautners are, but it is really a great little house. I love how it shows that, from early in his career, he was innovating with the structural systems of even modest projects.

Though this particular truss-column system never caught on in a big way, it definitely foreshadows his later successes, where he was able to minimize the structural footprint to such a degree that he could put spectacular houses on steep, previously unbuildable lots.

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