Thoughts

✱ The Architecture of John Lautner by Evan Troxel

One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that there is great architecture to experience if you are willing to go out and visit it. I had the opportunity in late July 2011 to visit four homes by the late John Lautner who would be turning 100 years old. In celebration of that event, the MAK Center and the John Lautner Foundation cooperatively put on a home tour. I was happy to support these two entities and visit the homes of an architect whom I greatly admire. Lautner is by far one of my highest regarded icons of the profession. He was an undisputed master of linking spaces through form and structure.

The four homes on the tour, in the order I visited them, were the Sheats/Goldstein House (1963, remodeled in 1980), the Schwimmer House (1982), the Harpel House (1956), and the Jacobsen House (1947). They span a majority of his work, representing many stages in his career. Lautner had an immense vision for what architecture could be, and how it could be used to shape people's lives. Just as important to Lautner's vision were the clients that were willing to go along for the ride. Lucky for us, he had both.

The line between inside and out hardly exists, and at one time it didn't.

The line between inside and out hardly exists, and at one time it didn't.

Cinema

Good architecture is cinematic. It evokes emotion. It happens in an instant - when the lighting in a space is perfect, the mood is right, the sounds in the room are exactly what they should be, drawing you in for a special treat. Just like the moment in a film that had been planned a year beforehand by the director and cinematographer - the lighting, environment, and everything else had to be just perfect before it was captured and printed on film. Then in post production, sound was added to create the most amazing quenching for the senses - visually, audibily, emotionally... and it becomes a spiritual moment. One that sits you down and makes you think about it. It makes you say 'whoa'. It actually moves you. You are affected by it, and you are glad you were there to experience it. 

This is what architecture should be. It should be like cinema.

But does it float?

But does it float?

To me, Lautner was the Santiago Calatrava of today. He used amazing skeletal structures to encompass space. Like Rudolph Schindler, he understood that at the most basic level, his architecture was about the people who actually lived in his creations. He did the opposite of what so many architects do today - he designed from the inside out. In fact, this was the most prevalent experience I had on the tour. I was keenly aware that the architecture was responding to me. Lautner was able, on many levels, to make me experience my surroundings in a heightened way. I respect this about him. I am a lover of nature, and I can tell he was too. Nature plays such an important role in his architecture that often the lines between inside and outside are blurred if not nonexistent.  

The homes we visited were designed for people to live in them, unlike today where the majority of homes are designed for just anybody. By that, I mean that they were designed to fit the owners like a glove - they were not designed in a vacuum for just anybody. Today, we just move in, paint the walls and change some pieces of furniture. Our homes tell us how to live, which is a mostly introverted life. Differently, Lautner's homes were always linked to the outside, and more importantly, part of it in a fundamental way. They borrowed nature and made it part of the spaces, bringing it in. The spaces reflected the needs of the family that it was designed for. It was a more pleasant experience because the building wasn't just a dumb box. It helped them live better.

Rather that write about each home independently, there was one overarching concept I found unavoidable in all four, and I thought it would best to just focus on that for now.

Linking Spaces

Lautner was able to link spaces on three different levels. One of the reoccurring concepts I experienced was that there was often a roof form or volumetric idea that spanned several spaces typically lined up end to end. Schindler was a master at interlocking adjacent spaces and volumes with complicated geometry. Lautner's work is a bit different - usually linking several spaces within a common, sweeping form or volume.

Usually the spaces of the homes were separated by partitions that didn't go up to the roof, but had glass so that noise wouldn't travel between them, while still maintaining a visual connection. There were several small and large spaces within a much larger space. This made the homes feel much larger then they were; more open and airy. They felt spacious, even though they were of a manageable size. 

An example of a continuous roof form connecting multiple spaces

An example of a continuous roof form connecting multiple spaces

Second, Lautner linked the rooms of his homes to the immediate outside. Practically every room had a balcony, deck, or some personal outdoor space. Often times a corridor would run along the edge of multiple rooms that was completely outside, like you'd find at a motel. This forced the people who live there to experience their surroundings on a daily basis. This might sound like an odd way to live, but the owners of his homes wouldn't have had it any other way. Nature is an important ingredient to living. On top of that, there was usually at least one "wall" of each space that separated inside from outside only by a sheet of glass, as if the space was just an extension of the outdoors. He was a master of blurring this line.

In the Sheats-Goldstein residence, where a thin glass plane now separates the living room from the outdoor pool deck (see the first picture) was once completely open. Lautner designed (invented?) an air curtain where a steady stream of air was forced out of the triangulated concrete roof form that cascaded down to the floor below. It's my understanding that this didn't last long as it didn't work perfectly (to say the least) and that Miss Sheats didn't like being in the living room as the rain came in sideways through the large opening.

Like Rudolph Schindler's sleeping baskets on top of the King's Road house, the idea was that Southern California's temperate climate afforded people the luxury (at least to them) of not having to enclose certain spaces. They cited the health benefits and pleasures of outdoor sleeping and living. Obviously this was before the major LA smog, and nowadays we lesser people must have our heat and air conditioning most of the time, but then things were a bit more rugged. This isn't meant to discredit the architectural ideals of Lautner and Schindler. In fact, I still believe in those ideals. I would love to have half of my house "outside".

The Sheats-Goldstein doesn't have air conditioning, is completely naturally ventilated with cross-breezes and operable roofs, and has radiant floor heating which even today would be considered a luxury. There are also over 750 small skylights that bring natural light into the living room along with sliding roof skylights over the kitchen and dining room. These things reinforce his ideals about linking spaces to the immediate outdoors. 

Linking indoors to outdoors was a priority for Lautner

Linking indoors to outdoors was a priority for Lautner

Lastly, he linked these rooms and their personal outdoor spaces to their greater surroundings. This is a very strong connection. Almost every room has a view that has been framed in some way off to the distant city or landscape. He would even orient you so that as you were standing in a room, you were naturally and intentionally looking exactly where he wanted you to be looking so that you didn't miss the best views from the property. It is said that he preferred to  look through the lens of a camera instead of using the typical architectural sketchbook for capturing moments while on early site visits. This perhaps explains why his spaces are so cinematic... framed just like a piece of art on a nonexistent wall.

There is so much more I could write about. It was a deeply meaningful experience and I want to be able to visit more of his buildings. As I do, I hope to understand more and more about what architecture really is all about.

Get Out

As designers, it is so important to go out and experience architecture. It can be difficult to pry yourself from the demands of the job, but it is such a worthy exercise. Too many designers are stuck in cubicles, removed and unplugged from the experiences of the people who actually end up using our buildings. I think it's impossible to design great architecture without experiencing it for yourself. We need to find out what makes great architecture affect its users. This was one of those opportunities for me. I hope you are able to get out and do it yourself. Stop making excuses and do it.

View a selection of my Lautner photo gallery.

Because of John's 100th birthday, there is quite a buzz online. Here are a few links to help satisfy your Lautner munchies:

Recent articles about John Lautner:

Books on John Lautner:

Films about John Lautner's work:

✱ Paying Homage to James Turrell, Who Turns Light Into Art by Evan Troxel

If you have a chance to visit a Turrell Skyspace, do it. There's one in my town and I've enjoyed it many times. The New York Times has an article highlighting some exhibitions that might be within your travel range so you can experience it yourself.

“LIGHT is this thing we usually use to illuminate other things,” said the artist James Turrell, who first considered the presence of a beam of light cast from a slide projector during art history class at Pomona College in the early 1960s. “I’m interested that light has thingness itself, so it’s not something that reveals something about other things you’re looking at, but it becomes a revelation in itself.”

As an architectural designer, paying attention to light and what it can do inside a space is only part of the process of design. The fun part is what you can achieve with it as a design tool. It's one of the most flexible and underused tools in our toolbox. It is one of those things that, along with many other necessary ingredients, can create a moving, human experience which to me is what architecture is all about.

There are some great architects that use(d) light to their advantage - Louis Kahn, for instance, was a master whom I greatly admire.

If you decide to go, let me know. I'd like to go back and experience with you.

Here are some pictures I took on my last visit as the colors shifted and completely changed my perception of the sky behind.:

✱ Eleven by Evan Troxel

As of today, my oldest son has made eleven trips around the sun. I picked him up from school just before his lunch to go out and eat together. The two of us ate at a local pizza place which we haven't been to in over a year. In fact, it's my favorite pizza place, and I wonder if he chose it because of that. That's the kind of kid he is.

Then tonight I picked him and his brother up after work and we came home to a perfect home-cooked meal and special birthday sugar-free cheesecake that my wife made. It was amazing. After that, the kids all did their normal after-dinner routine and got ready for bed. We did our normal parental routine of tickling all of them before saying our final goodnights.

This is where I would've normally slipped out of the room, but tonight was a little different. My oldest asked if I would lay down with him. Without saying anything, and without hesitation, I did. He giggled with joy, and as soon as I was next to him, he grabbed hold of my arm and hugged me for the next few minutes. I know this probably won't happen too many more times. I truly cherished it as I laid there with him, just really enjoying the moment. I hope we will always remember it. I'm a lucky dad.

I Heart Squarespace by Evan Troxel

Q: "What'd you do yesterday?"

A: "Oh, I trucked gallons of fuel up a highrise building by hand most of the day."

Here's just one more (huge) reason why I support Squarespace to host my website. They went way above and way beyond the call of duty for their customers during and after Hurricane Sandy:

I am proud to announce that throughout this event, Squarespace customers experienced absolutely no downtime related to the power outage. This is an amazing outcome considering the extraordinary circumstances we faced last week. What remains is an incredible story.

For those of you that haven’t been following our updates, employees from Squarespace, Fog Creek, and Peer1 manually carried fuel up 17 flights of stairs for three days to save our generator while an interim fuel supply and pump could be installed. These efforts to provide uninterrupted service for our customers [...]

If you want to have a great website with a great support team behind it, be sure to check them out.

✱ Future Me by Evan Troxel

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately... as in almost every day. The following tweet just happened into my feed a few days ago and it re-sparked my desire to share exactly what I've been thinking, and more importantly, doing:

It makes me happy to think that future me is going to be happy with the choices current me is making now. Put another way, future me will be thanking past me for the choices I'm making now. 

What does that mean?

I've been slowly chipping away at a list, changing things here and there to make my life better. The things I've taken on keep getting bigger and bigger because I've realized how much change I want and need, and small victories lead to bigger challenges which need conquering. Once I start to conquer something, it seems pretty easy to add another and so it's grown as I've moved forward. 

My goal is to make the important changes now that will impact my life in the long term. I'm talking big stuff. Hard stuff. Life-changing stuff. I want to train myself to make changes that are necessary so I can live life the way I want. I'm learning how to silence the part of my brain that says I can't do something. And that's just the beginning. My brain has all kinds of roadblocks that need to be taken out back behind the house and shot. 

For instance: I want to be an active father. I want to raise my kids to be great contributors to society. I want to be debt-free. I want to hang out with excellent people. I want to seek adventure. I want to change the world. I want to make art. I want to inspire and be inspired. I want to share what I know. I want to live the life I dream of with people I love. 

Some people just take what they get. They live life without a plan. I'm a designer. I'm designing my life.

Time is of the Essence

A little history: Around Thanksgiving of 2009, I gave up the first thing - soda. This was a big deal for me. Everyone who knew me in college and for years after knows I was never a coffee drinker and I was addicted to sugar water. I would pop open a Pepsi first thing in the morning and sometimes drink four or five of them a day for a while. When I quit, I was only having one at lunch but I knew it was time to stop. I had caught a cold and had learned that sugar feeds colds like nothing else. I decided to quit and haven't had one since.

This started a pattern for me - make changes cold-turkey. All or nothing. And it meant sticking with those decisions. No faking it. No one else knew I was doing it so it was a little harder when I only had to be accountable to myself. I believe this has helped me because I was only doing it for me anyway. Accountability to others can be a powerful thing, but accountability to yourself is what really matters. If you can do it by yourself, I think it's even better.

So that's where it started. But then things got more serious.

The last day of February, I started a lifestyle transformation which touches on health and fitness but runs much deeper. I thought of it as a leap-year challenge - something that was a long term goal that I would chip away at by accomplishing smaller, daily chunks. It all started when someone made a little side remark. "You're fat." That hit me deep into my core.  I was always the skinny kid! "No way, not me" is what I told myself. But I knew I had a gut. I whined and complained about how I didn't have enough time to exercise. I could always eat whatever I wanted without concern for weight gain... until the last few years. I'm 37 now, and if I didn't start making changes, it was going downhill without brakes.

I knew that if I set a long term, life changing goal, It would take a long time to get where I wanted. I also knew I would have to have lots of smaller milestones in between to measure progress along the way. I's also need accountability and a reward system built in.

The Symptoms

I work at a desk. I sit most of the day. No longer did I fit into my dress pants. I was growing man-boobs. They bounced when I went down the stairs at the office. I'm just sayin'. 

Besides that, low energy. Tons of bad habits. Not enough sleep. Not productive enough. The list went on and on. 

Time to Change

This is just a primer post for a narrative I'll be telling well into the future. In other words, this is the beginning. I'll be sharing the changes I've made and followed. I'll share tip and tricks that have helped me along the way. There are a couple of reasons I've decided to do this: First, I want to keep a record of it. It's important to me to track my goals and be able to look back and see the path I've intentionally chosen to take. Since I'm a digital junky, I'll share some of the tools I've used to track my habits and goals. Second, I want to let you know that you can do it too. You just have to want to do it, and take the first step. In other words, start.

The types of things I'll be talking about are diet and nutrition related, exercise, getting out of your comfort zone, personal challenges, taking risks, resources, and critical thinking. It's not just about the outward appearances. It's about clear thinking, creativity, ability to focus, take chances, and living a life of intention - both personally and as a father of four kids. 

It's all summed up so nicely in the tweet earlier in this post, isn't it? Let's focus on that until next time.

It's hard to press the button to post this because it's so personal, but here goes. I hope it can help you too.

✱ Dreaming by Day by Evan Troxel

I dream by day, because I can't remember my dreams at night.

It's rare that I ever remember my dreams I have when I sleep. I've been thinking about this lately, and have come to realize that I live a double life where there are two halves of myself that seemingly have no connection with each other. I wonder if sleeping-me takes more from awake-me or if it's the other way around when constructing the two realities.  

Other people remember everything they dream about at night. I know because they tell me. I wonder what that's like. Yes, every once in a while I remember a snippet here and there. But it fades away quickly. By the next hour after I've woken up, it's gone. It's like sleeping-me is pulling the scenes back into darkness with a tug-of-war rope with more force on its end.

I made a decision to do the meaningful dreaming when I'm awake. Kids are told to focus on the facts and color inside the lines. That's some harmful shit. Our world needs creative solutions to real, heavy problems. We should connect more with people's hearts and less with their minds; more with important experiences and less with the almighty dollar. You should join me. Stop listening to that voice in the back of your head that tells you just to get by. Stop listening to it tell you that these problems are someone else's. Pick one and own it.

If you ever ask me what I dreamt about, I couldn't answer you. Maybe sleeping-me could write a blog. Maybe he is. I should do a search.