"The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner," a production of CZ Productions, was screened January 4th at the Royal Institute of British Architects. PLP Architecture hosted the event as an office gathering and extended the invitation to the UK Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
The documentary film is rich with stunning photography of Lautner's private work, well paced interviews with his contemporary critics, and footage of the Architect recounting his experiences as a young man and then in Los Angeles, from his arrival in 1938 until his death in 1994. Lautner idealised the verdant and unpopulated Michigan landscapes of his childhood and described bucolic years in Wisconsin and Arizona working with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, where design and living with nature were inseparable. He spoke critically of the Los Angeles urban environment, and in his work he carefully choreographed the occupants' movements and crafted framed views to achieve a near garden of Eden. Lautner was also interested in the use of new materials and their technological potential, putting to use in some cases for achieving an uncompromising design standard at a reasonable budget. His design embodied the spirit of mid century American optimism, belief in the future and in personal satisfaction.
Honoured by the personal attendance of the director, Bette Jane Cohen, who edited the documentary, and her husband and executive-producer, Steven Zeitzew, the evening's screening included a dialogue with with audience. The occasion for the international tour, including MAD Architects in Beijing, SHL in Copenhagen, and the ESAG in Paris, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the film's original production, for which a new addendum to the film was made exploring how some of Lautner's work has endured with time. Bette Cohen has digitally remastered the film, originally shot for 16mm and VHS format.
Bette Cohen described a visit to Lautner's Garcia residence which inspired her to make the film, and a subsequent meeting to propose the idea of a documentary to Lautner himself, who remarked she was "tall enough to take on the responsibility," and agreed to fully collaborate.
The film will soon be released on dvd, and another screening in London is being planned.
Recently the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) made a big announcement: that Goldstein – who purchased Lautner's Sheats house in 1972 – has bequeathed his home, its contents and surrounding estate, which includes a night club and an infinity tennis court, to the museum. The historic gesture marks the first gift of architecture to the LACMA, and includes an endowment for maintenance and preservation of the historic house, gardens and contents, as well as programming.
Goldstein said that the decision to give his home to the museum was a simple one. ‘I wanted to have the house as an inspiration for architects in the future, as an inspiration for people in general in Los Angeles; to try and continue to make Los Angeles more beautiful, and to open it up to the public for many years to come, so that they can see the great work of John Lautner, and see the possibilities in contemporary architecture,’ he explained to an audience of journalists and trustees at the property.
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Author: Karen Cook, PLP Architecture