AD Classics: Malin “Chemosphere” Residence / John Lautner

© Julius Schulman

Formerly called “the most modern home built in the world” by the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Malin Residence was the stereotypical scientific vision of the future brought to life when it was built by American architect  in 1960. Built for the client Malin Lautner, a young aircraft engineer, the design of the residence was in fact an engineering challenge due to its location on a forty-five degree slope in an earthquake-prone region. The house, nicknamed the ”Chemosphere” hovers 30 feet over the city of Los Angeles resembling a UFO aircraft.

More on the “Chemosphere” residence after the break.

When John Lautner was given the site in 1960, there were two common methods for building houses on the difficult sloped land. The ground could be cut to create a level platform or the house could be supported on an open steel framework. The client, however, had a small budget (only $30,000) so Lautner instead took advantage of the client’s extensive imagination and rejected both structural methods for one that would cost about half of the conventional solution with retaining walls and land drains. Lautner perched the entire one-story octagon on a single 30-foot column, leaving the natural surroundings untouched.

© Ted VanCleave

Steel struts shoot out from the single column to support the floor of the house. The concrete column, however, is not the element that supports the roof of the residence. It actually does not even continue up into the interior. The inside of the house is a column-free open space. The north side of the house contains the public spaces, such as the living room, kitchen, and dining room, and the south side facing the hill slices into 4 bedrooms and a bathroom. At the peak of the house, where the column would have been, Lautner placed a circular rooflight in order to provide lighting in the deepest part of the plan. Under this rooflight there is a fireplace and a sitting area.


The structure of the residence is made of steel and timber, and the roof is supported by curved portal frames of laminated wood. These materials were chosen due to the earthquake zone it’s located in, and the house has actually withstood hurricanes and floods, proving its structure successful. Window openings were placed along the perimeter of the house, and there is even a window on the bottom part of the structure looking over the car port. This car port is the beginning of the entrance to the house. After the car is parked a private furnicular, or an inclined railway, ascends up the slope and lands at a narrow bridge which spans from the ground to the entrance near the kitchen.

© Sara Sackner

Lautner’s futuristic “flying saucer” quickly caught the eyes of the Hollywood industry and the house has since appeared in films including Body Double and Charlie’s Angels. The modern icon floats above the city and was named one of the all time top ten houses in Los Angeles.

Architect: John Lautner
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Project Year: 1960
Project Area: 2200 square feet
Client: Leonard Malin
Photographs: The John Lautner FoundationJulius Shulman, Ted VanCleave, Sara Sackner, and on Flickr: Jaime Perez Dinnbier, and, and
References: Davies, Colin. Key houses of the twentieth century. W W Norton & Co Inc, 2006. Print. and

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: Malin “Chemosphere” Residence / John Lautner" 16 Jun 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>
  • gweilo

    So Jackie Treehorn

    So awesome

  • ozmoto

    The view from the inside does feel like the Enterprise. Funny though… the Enterprise with a chimney.

  • Nicholas Patten

    AD Classics: Malin “Chemosphere” Residence.

  • tim

    that was A – class architecture in the late 60´s.. dreamy !!

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    Великолепный дом, и насколько помню сам дом и его интерьер использовались в кино.

  • Ryann Louie

    It does kind of look like the Enterprise. If Star Trek didn’t exist, would you think it resembled a flower growing out of the ground? If I didn’t put that thought into your head would you think it looked like a flying saucer? Why do we have to connect the Chemosphere to anything? Can’t it just be a piece of unique architecture that Lautner thought would be an oasis from the city?

  • Jane

    Correction: built for Leonard Malin.
    He is my grandfather