Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Chemosphere

The Malin House, better known as the "Chemosphere," is another one of L.A.'s iconic mid-century modern residences. Los Angeles architect John Lautner (1911-1994) built the futuristic, octagonal house in 1960 for a young engineer named Leonard Malin who inherited a small plot of land just off of Mulholland Drive. The land was too steep to build a normal house on, so Lautner designed the building to float on top of a 30-foot high concrete pillar. He burried the pillar deep into the hillside so the structure is stable enough to withstand earthquakes and mudslides.

The Chemosphere was used as a residence for several decades and then fell into disrepair in the 1990s when the owners began to rent the house out for parties. In 2000, German art publisher Benedikt Taschen purchased the Chemosphere when he relocated Taschen Publishing's American headquarters to Los Angeles from New York. Taschen has extensively renovated the interior of the house and now uses it as his Los Angeles residence.

The Chemosphere is accessible only by a private funicular that ascends the hillside. The house is on the North side of the Hollywood Hills and has wrap-around windows to take advantage of sweeping views over the San Fernando Valley:

The Chemosphere is located at 7776 Torreyson Drive off of Mulholland Drive. Unfortunately, the interior is not open to the public, but there are good views of the house from Torreyson Drive.

View Chemosphere in a larger map


  1. Nice post! It reminded me of a painting by Josh Agle, who perhaps anticipated the future gaze of a cat-friendly connoisseur of modern architecture.

  2. Thanks for the link! For other readers who missed it, click on "As seen here" above to see a painting of a girl who looks like she has some of the same interests as me ...

  3. Hi Vanessa!

    Did Buckminster Fuller have anything to do with this building? Adam and I went to an exhibition at the Whitney last year on his designs, and there was a model of a house almost identical to this one.

    If I remember correctly the idea was a form of affordable pre-fab housing: you would dynamite a hole in the ground, helicopters would plop the fully built into the hole like a golf tee, then fill in the hole for support.

  4. Hi Jaime,

    Yes - you're right. One of Lautner's inspirations for the Chemosphere was Buckminster Fuller's hexagonal Dymaxion House. Fuller originally designed the Dymaxion as an inexpensive pre-fab house in the 1920s. He redesigned the house several times after WWII giving it a more circular shape.

    The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI has a fully restored Dymaxion House:

    For more information on Lautner and his various influences, check out this NYT review of last year's Lautner exhibit at UCLA's Hammer Museum:

  5. One more thing - for another Los Angeles building inspired by Buckminster Fuller, look at my post from March '09 on LA architect Welton Beckett. Beckett's 1963 Cinerama movie theater in Hollywood is based on Fuller's geodesic dome and is still the largest geodesic dome theater in the world.