The Chemosphere House: Space Age & Modernism.

This house, named and known as the Chemosphere, is the coolest house you’ll ever see. I guarantee it. The Encyclopedia Britannica even once called it “the most modern home built in the world”. Outstandingly innovative in its design, this is a house that truly deviates from the norm.

The Chemosphere House

The Chemosphere Design

Designed in 1960 by American architect John Lautner, and built in Hollywood, Los Angeles, this house is admired for the ingenuity of its solution to the problematic terrain it was built on. The Chemosphere is also known for its Modernist design and octagonal shape, almost resembling a UFO. This house is a reflection of its time period as it was designed in the midst of the cold war and notably the “Space Race” between U.S.A and Russia. This architectural creation certainly helped spark the Space Age design era and inspired other well-known works such as Matti Suuronen’s Futuro House. The Chemosphere consists of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room, a living room, and a kitchen. All standing on a single pole.

The Chemosphere Living Room, 1960

A Problematic Terrain

Architect John Lautner was to build a house in the Holywood Hills on a building site with a slope of 45 degrees. The terrain made it complicated to design a house with large horizontal surfaces to live on. Furthermore, the terrain on which the house was built, was located in a region often affected by earthquakes heavy rain. So, John Lautner came up with an innovative solution. He was to build the house on a 5-foot-wide (1.5 m) concrete pole that was 30 feet (9 m) high.

The Chemosphere, 1960

The octagonal structure distributed the weight equally on the pole and made it possible to create around 2,200 square feet (200 m2) of living space. The terrain was thought to be practically unbuildable. However, John Lautner’s solution of a concrete pedestal, almost 20 feet (6 m) in diameter, buried under the earth and supporting the post made it possible to build a house on a sharp slope that has even survived earthquakes.

House History

The cost of building the Chemosphere was US$140,000 (approximately $1.19 million in today’s terms), it was partly subsidized by two sponsoring companies: the Southern California Gas Company and the Chem Seal Corporation.

The Chem Seal corp provided the experimental coatings and resins used during construction and inspired the name Chemosphere. After its construction, the house was put on the market was purchased by Leonard Malin, a young aerospace engineer.

Leonard Malin had very limited means however, he was determined to inhabit the house. In the end, Leonard Malin bought the home by paying US$80,000 in cash. The Malins and their four children lived there until rising costs and the demise of the aerospace industry forced them to sell in 1972. 

The Chemosphere, view, 1960

For over a decade the house was rented out and used for parties and other events. By 1997, the house lost much of its original value as the interior had degraded. Due to its deviation from the norm of most houses and poor maintenance, this house did not attract any buyers and remained a rental for a long period of time.

The Chemosphere interior now

In 1998 the house was purchased by German publisher and Art collector, Benedikt Taschen who is notably famous for founding and managing the Taschen publishing house. Mr. Taschen has had the home restored, stating that the house has a relatively high cost of maintenance.  The recent restoration, by Escher GuneWardena Architecture, won an award from the Los Angeles Conservancy. For this project, Frank Escher was appointed as the restoration architect. He was the first author to write a book on Lautner and, since 1988, is responsible for overseeing the John Lautner Archives. During the restoration, the architect added details that were unavailable 40 years before (as the technology simply did not exist) that were part of the original Chemosphere design.

The Chemosphere Deck, 1960

It is now a scene where Benedikt Taschen hosts lavish parties where porn stars, photographers musicians, and screenwriters socialize.

In 2004, the Chemosphere was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

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