John Lautner was born in Marquette, Michigan of academic parents at a local college now called Northern Michigan University. He first attended the University of Michigan but left soon after starting. In 1933, he graduated from Northern Michigan University in English and began a six-year job with Frank Lloyd Wright - in the first class of Taliesin Fellows at Spring Green WI. For Wright, Lautner supervised Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and the Johnson Wax Building in Wisconsin. He also oversaw a Wright design for his mother-in-law Abby Beecher Roberts, the Deertrack house in Marquette. The Lautners moved to California in 1937 for John to oversee the construction of Wright's Sturges and Oboler houses. In 1943, he left Wright to work for Structon Company on military projects. From 1944 Lautner worked with Douglas Honnold - primarily an interior designer - where he became a partner in 1945. In 1947, Lautner departed after an affair with Honnold's wife, Elizabeth Gilman (Gilly) Honnold. That put an end to the formal partnership although the two men remained friends.
Lautner did not receive his architectural license until 1952. Lautner became associated with a style of architecture known as “Googie,” (cantilevered structures, upswept rooflines, and Space Age imagery), after he designed the iconic Googie’s Coffee House in Burbank, however, his innovation in building form and groundbreaking use of concrete is best highlighted in many of his residential projects. His association with the famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman helped to familiarize a wide audience with his work. His Elrod house in Palm Springs was featured in the James Bond movie, Diamonds are Forever. Distinctive for its expansive glass walls, arresting form, and exuberant signage oriented to automobiles, Googie became a fixture in 1950s America but was regularly ridiculed by the architectural community. Lautner's reputation suffered, despite that fact his designs were as good as ever.
Following some lean years, he rose again in the 1960s with the “Chemosphere” pedestal house and poured-concrete houses, notably the Elrod Residence in Palm Springs. Lautner practiced for over 50 years, designing more than 200 buildings. Only about a dozen are outside of California, including the Turner house, just outside of Aspen, which is considered one of his most important designs. He was named Olympic Architect for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Upon his death, brilliant Lautner protégé Helena Arahuete took over the firm - which continues today. He was the subject of the documentary Infinite Space.
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