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  7. AD Classics: Malin "Chemosphere" Residence / John Lautner

AD Classics: Malin "Chemosphere" Residence / John Lautner

AD Classics: Malin "Chemosphere" Residence / John Lautner
AD Classics: Malin "Chemosphere" Residence / John Lautner

© Ted VanCleave © © Sara Sackner © +13

From the architect. 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 John Lautner 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.

© Ted VanCleave
© Ted VanCleave

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 concrete column, leaving the natural surroundings untouched.

Courtesy of John Lautner Foundation
Courtesy of John Lautner Foundation

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. 

© Sara Sackner
© Sara Sackner

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.

© Ted VanCleave
© Ted VanCleave

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.

Cite: Adelyn Perez. "AD Classics: Malin "Chemosphere" Residence / John Lautner" 16 Jun 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>
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PSHEUGHX · March 03, 2016

It's one of the finest architectural marvels in the LA area. Have you all seen this video about it?

Jane · March 04, 2014

Correction: built for Leonard Malin.
He is my grandfather

Ryann Louie · November 22, 2012

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?

AllAboutDoor&Windows · February 04, 2012

Futuristic house--built in 1960. Octagonal-shaped & supported by 1 column perched on a steep slope: #architecture

Inga Voropaeva · November 04, 2011

to live in a flying saucer, why not?

yasushi nakamura · June 30, 2011

??100????????John Lautner (1911-1994)????
?????????????????“Chemosphere?????”? GREY??????

Felipe Miranda · December 03, 2010

You have seen this house in countless films - a playboy pad, baddie lair etc - John Lautner Chemosphere - a classic -

Carlos Rosas · August 25, 2010

si alguien vio "Body Double" de De Palma, seguro reconocerá este clásico del modernismo. "Chemosphere" de John Lautner

ARCHDETAIL · June 17, 2010

???????????? ???, ? ????????? ????? ??? ??? ? ??? ???????? ?????????????? ? ????.

tim · June 17, 2010

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

Nicholas Patten · June 17, 2010

AD Classics: Malin “Chemosphere” Residence.

ozmoto · June 17, 2010

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

gweilo · June 16, 2010

So Jackie Treehorn

So awesome


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