“Standing on a site, I seek its particular and unique expression with all the senses … until the natural setting, the character of the owners, and the design harmoniously become a single idea.” – John Lautner
It must have been a similar situation when John Lautner got the commission to build the Garcia House. A scenic road like the Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles offers barely spacious and ground-level lots. For the Garcia House Lautner had to cope with a site that was probably not much more than an area expiring into a canyon – hence, not very bearing. But Lautner had already created some outstanding and gravity-defying residences such as the Chemosphere House. Since a real construction site was not given he again decided to build a stilt house. In this case, he created an eye-shaped building sitting on V-shaped beams 18 meters above the ground.
The residence was originally designed in 1962 for composer and musician Russell Garcia and his wife Gina. In 2002, after decades of unconscious and inappropriate modifications by several owners, the new proprietors Bill Damaschke and John McIllwee invested a considerable sum on an extensive renovation supervised by Marmol Radziner, a design and interior firm specialized on mid-century houses. They succeeded in both preserving the unique character of the house and updating it technically.
The Garcia House stands out due to its special form. The parabolic roof over solitary placed colored stained glass windows led to the colloquial name ‚Rainbow House‘. It fits perfectly into the neighbourhood since the Mulholland Drive features numerous exceptional residences.
Lautner had the intention to create a space in which it is necessary and common to alternate between indoors and outdoors. Below the arch the sphere splits into two parts that are interconnected by a sweeping outdoor spiral staircase in the middle which leads from the street into the living area downstairs. Glass walls shut both sides of the house, whereby a view through the house onto the street and over Los Angeles is commanded. Obviously a house like this widely open to the outdoors can only exist in a clement climate like that of Southern California.
The architect believed that a building should arouse a transcendental understanding of ambience. For Lautner, it had to enter a dialogue with the site, especially with the nature. The ‚Rainbow house‘ is a unique work and can easily be identified from far away by the unmistakable lines of its arched roof. The house sits on spider leg stilts, being uplifted 18 meters above the canyon beyond. Lautner advanced the idea to play with the dialectic of fragility and technology in one building. The stilts need to be stable enough to carry the weight of the house. Since those beams are reduced to a minimum diameter they need to be high tech and of the best material. Being uplifted the house offers spectacular views. Lautner plays with the eye motive in two different ways. On the one hand the eye shape is in full view from the other side of the hill, on the other hand the resident of the Garcia House can see everything as well, being somehow invisible at the same time due to his position above the ground.
Despite the impressiveness of the setup it is a modest-sized home being characterized by a great practicality of everyday living with a glimmer of luxury, regarding the spectacular view and the recently built swimming pool, inspired by Lautner’s original, yet unbuilt, design.
The eye shape of the house echoes in the swimming pool. Hereby the architect created a formal unity between the house and the pool, even though some decades lay in between the two projects.
All pictures are taken by the author.
Olsberg, Nicholas: Between Earth and Heaven. The Architecture of John Lautner, New York 2008.