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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 06, 1994|Michael Webb

JOHN LAUTNER, ARCHITECT edited by Frank Escher (Artemis/London: $90; 296 pp.) This book celebrates the career of a neglected giant, who enriched the Southland for over 50 years until his death on Oct. 24. His atypical Chemosphere house, rising like a slender mushroom from the Hollywood Hills, and the thrilling concrete span of "Silvertop," a landmark home above Silver Lake, have been widely reproduced. But enthusiasts have had to wait for this sumptuous European publication to discover the full range of John Lautner's achievement. Highlights include the free-form Arango house, soaring above Acapulco (above), and the petal-vaulted Elrod house in Palm Springs; dramatically cantilevered restaurants and pools. Wood and concrete, art and technology are pushed to their limits. Lautner was the true heir of Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom he worked as an apprentice in the 1930s before opening his office in L.A. He was an original striving for the unique, drawing his inspiration from the site, unbending and outspoken. "The purpose of Architecture is to . . . create timeless, free, joyous spaces for all activities in life," he writes in a headline-type foreword. "What is commonly known as Architecture are styles--Greek, Colonial, French, English, Modern, etc. These are known merchandise that Bankers will finance and Real Estate sell," he continues. Such talk scared away potential clients. Happily, there always were a few adventurers who encouraged him to fresh flights of invention. Like Wright in his old age, Lautner in his nineties enjoyed an overdue burst of attention and employment.

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