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John Lautner; Innovative L.A. Architect


John Lautner, an innovative Los Angeles architect whose modernistic houses include Chemosphere House above Studio City, which has been likened to a UFO hedgehopping the Santa Monica Mountains, has died. He was 83.

Lautner, who studied as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, died Monday of heart failure at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles.

Lautner set up his practice shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 1937 to supervise Wright projects.

He later recalled his first impression of the city: "It was so ugly, it made me physically sick."

Among Lautner's best-known works is the striking Bob Hope home, which dominates a mountainside in Palm Springs.

In 1961, the Encyclopaedia Britannica rated Lautner's Chemosphere the "most modern home built in the world." The two-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot house, mounted on a single concrete column near Mulholland Drive, has become an often-photographed architectural treasure and one of Lautner's most famous creations.

Another of his landmark homes, Silvertop, features an arching concrete ceiling above a 3,000-square-foot living room, which makes the room appear to open like a clamshell. A majestic concrete fireplace in the 7,500-square-foot house includes a glass wall providing a spectacular view of Silver Lake.

Lautner's designs sought to relate humans to their living space and the residences to surrounding nature. He disparaged simplistic, box-style buildings.

"I think a box is for jails and dogs," the outspoken architect told The Times in 1983. "The environment for people is always better in some other space than a box."

Lautner prided himself on caring more for good design than for profit, once noting, "I just kept a week ahead of the rent for 35 years."

His houses have been the sets for several movies, including "Diamonds are Forever" and "Body Double."

Although he specialized in single-family residences, Lautner also notably lent his hand to such multiple-family developments as the Sheets Apartments in Westwood in 1949, and commercial designs such as the radio astronomy laboratory at Caltech.

He designed hundreds of schools and commercial and residential buildings.

His work has been the subject of many exhibitions in the United States and elsewhere, including a current one at Columbia University in New York. His designs have often been discussed in architectural publications, with Arts & Architecture magazine rating him a "lyrical technologist." Artemis of London recently published a comprehensive monograph on Lautner's work.

Lautner was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1970. Last year, he received the gold medal of the institute's Los Angeles chapter.

He is survived by his wife, Francesca; four children, Karol, Michael, Mary and Judith; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Viewing is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at Pierce Brothers Mortuary, 5959 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Services will be at 7:30 tonight in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, 6657 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

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