John Lautner: Organic Architect and Founder of Googie

Posted on Oct 28, 2013 in Discover | No Comments
John Lautner: Organic Architect and Founder of Googie

John Lautner was a famous Modernist organic architect and founder of Googie architecture. That’s right—Googie! Sounds kind of crazy, and it is kind of crazy, but we’ll get to that soon.

For many years, Lautner served as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose status is legendary, and who instilled in his protégé an appreciation for organic architecture. Below is a photo of a Lautner house that used to belong to Hollywood couple Courtney Cox and David Arquette. It adheres perfectly to the principles of organic architecture. You can see how it appears to blend in with the colors and shapes of the surrounding landscape, and how it looks very natural, almost as if it is a living organism itself.

Image: Segel Hse

Segel Hse

[Photo credit: Take Sunset]

Now to explain the part that you’ve been wondering about all this time. What on earth is Googie architecture? It’s a style of architecture that’s every bit as kooky as its name. The term was coined by the critic Douglas Haskell when he saw Googie’s Coffee Shop, which had been designed by Lautner.

Image: Googie’s Coffee Shop

Googie's Coffee Shop

[Photo credit: Take Sunset]

Some other names for Googie include Ray Gun Gothic and Coffee House Moderne. It’s characterized by quirky angles and cartoonish colors, and a half-retro, half-futuristic look. Here are a few examples of Googie architecture.

Images: Triangular Bldg, Theme Bldg, Helsings

  • Triangular Bldg
  • Theme Bldg
  • Helsings

[Photo credits: A Steampunk Opera, TECCM, Synthetrix]

Two of Lautner’s most famous Googie designs are the space-age Chemosphere and the Elrod House.

Image: Chemosphere Interior, Chemosphere Exterior, Elrod House

  • Chemosphere Interior
  • Chemosphere Exterior

[Photo credits: EscherGuneWardena, Daily Icon,]

These two Lautner-designed houses perfectly combine the principles of both Googie and organic architecture. You can see how the Stevens’ House has the bold, exaggerated angles of Googie, but it also looks like an ocean wave breaking against the shore.

Stevens’ House crashing wave

Images: Stevens House, Bob Hope Hse

  • Stevens Hse
  • Bob Hope House

[Photo credits: TopTenRealEstateDeals, Telegraph]

John Lautner perfectly summed up his design ethos, and the principles of organic architecture, when he said:

“I think that any work of art has to have a spirit—has to have a feeling—in order to be really art. If it’s really alive, it’s art. If it’s static and dead, it’s not.”

That quote was taken from the clip below, a beautifully edited short film featuring several Lautner designs. You can see the Elrod house making a cameo appearance in the James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever. You can even watch it blowing up!

Video: Lautner, Life & Adventure in Modernism

[Video credit: Giacomo Pala]

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