The Chemosphere

"Like living in the not too distant future" - Selma Bouvier

John Lautner Chemosphere Night
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Above Photo: The Chemosphere designed by John Lautner and completed in 1960. Photo: Joshua White

The most modern home built in the world.

– Encyclopedia Britannica

Within the canon of Modernist architecture the iconic ‘Chemosphere’ – or Marlin House – is almost a cliché. John Lautner’s design of the house – which the Encyclopedia Britannica once called, “the most modern home built in the world” – was both an exercise in fanciful thinking as well as practicality. The 45 degree slope of land was given to Leonard Malin by his father-in-law as a wedding gift and to build a conventional structure on the plot would have been too expensive. Lautner proposed a design for a 2200 square foot home that rose above the incline, supported on a 30 foot by five foot wide concrete column and, despite warnings that it would fall at the slightest shake, the home has survived earthquakes as well as mudslides these past 55 years.

The home has gone through a few owners since the Malins sold it in 1976. Rather infamously, the house’s second owner, Dr. Richard Kuhn, was stabbed to death in his home during a robbery (the culprits were subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison). On top of being now known as a ‘murder house’ the unusual designed made the ‘Chemosphere’ a difficult sell and for the following 20 years the home was rented out to various tenants and used for public events. The house had also suffered from some very inconsiderate renovations.

By 1997, the interior of the Chemosphere had become quite run down. But in 1998 it was purchased by Benedikt Taschen of the German publishing house Taschen. Taschen had the home completed restored and in 2004 the Chemosphere was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. It was also included in a list of the top 10 houses in Los Angeles by an LA Times survey of architectural experts.

The Chemosphere in pop culture

  • The Chemosphere was first used as a futuristic residence in The Duplicate Man, a 1964 episode of the ABC TV-program The Outer Limits.
  • It was also used in the 1984 film Body Double, directed by Brian De Palma.
  • It is also the house of villain Eric Knox in the 2000 film Charlie’s Angels, which was directly inspired by the Chemosphere.
  • A similar building also appears in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas near the ‘VINEWOOD’ sign.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, character Troy McClure resides in a similar flying saucer-shaped home.
  • Hosts on Current TV appear in a set which is an exact replica of the interior of the Chemosphere.
  • The character ‘Desolation Jones’ in the comic of the same name lives in the Chemosphere.



John Lautner suit tie

John Edward Lautner (1911 – 1994) Photo: John Lautner Foundation