The Chemosphere, designed by John Lautner in 1960, is a misunderstood structure teetering on the edge of the Los Angeles hills. The design, often viewed as a representation of “futuristic” living, can actually be described as an analysis of depth of field. Lautner’s unique structure creates an edge condition in the planes of the walls that collapses the living spaces into a foreground condition and allows for the city backdrop to become a background for the interior scene. In this sense, the middleground is completely dissolved. Along with a team of two other students, I designed a modern interpretation of Lautner’s pillars of design: immerse the visitor in the atmosphere of the space, collapse the foreground and background conditions into distinct planes, and eliminate a single vantage point.
The quarter plan is a reduced form of Lautnerâ€™s octagonal structure but works in similar methods by mirroring the space along the flat wall, duplicating both the room and viewer. Interior furnishings and occupants serve to populate an intimate foreground condition while the field condition of Los Angeles populates a distant background. The subjectâ€™s vision is transported via the radial plan as it stretches continuously toward the periphery and horizon.
The project adopts and adapts the program of the Frieze Art Fair, imagining it to take place for two weeks annually in Los Angeles. Programming for the remaining fifty weeks of the year is managed by the Frieze Art Foundation, which directs a publicly funded co-operative focused on multi-generational arts education and events, including screening facilities, experimental cuisine restaurants, and smaller seasonal art fairs. The design of the 100,000 square foot building focuses on user interactions and aims to create spaces for the seasonal events as well as the spontaneous activities that take place on the site. The main conceptual gesture is to utilize the urban context to cut through the site and building mass, carving away a central courtyard space and connecting the main pedestrian nodes.
The main gallery space is located within the trusses, which cantilever and surround the courtyard, providing momentum for pedestrians as they follow the continual gallery loop over screening facilities, auditoriums, classrooms, and restaurants, touching down to the ground at public spaces. The cantilever allows for a unique opportunity to step the gallery floor and create multiple levels of terraced displays for dividing works, artists, mediums, indoor and outdoor works, and even create distinct paths through the network of terraces.
To complete the project on time and on budget, most aspects of the building were designed to be pre-fabricated at the studio. Hundreds of pieces of flat-pack, 1/4” steel were plasma cut and sent to our facility, where they were welded into the connections of the structure. Simultaneously, 20 foot lengths of 2”x8” LSLs were cut and drilled to create the basic structural components. The skeleton was then assembled on site in a matter of days.