Category Archives: In his own words

The Purpose of Architecture

The purpose of Architecture is to improve human life. Create timeless, free, joyous spaces for all activities in life. The infinite variety of these spaces can be as varied as life itself and they must be as sensible as nature in deriving from a main idea and flowering into a beautiful entity. The overriding essence is found in the intangibles, life–heart–soul–spirit–freedom–enduring within the structure.

The basic needs of the human being and the subtle variations of the individual are the source for Real Architecture as well as, of course, the natural environment and the natural use of materials. Thus creating – new- changing- to infinity yet timeless Architecture.

–John Lautner, Architect F.A.I.A.

Celebrate John Lautner’s 100th birthday. See our calendar of events.

Lautner interview available

In 1986, Marlene Laskey interviewed John Lautner for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Oral History Program. Her 6-1/2 hour interview was printed by UCLA with the title Responsibility, Infinity, Nature. Ms. Laskey has since died and access to the book has been limited.

However, you can read it. It is available through the Internet Archive, an online library for researchers, historians, and scholars. The library maintains copies of the book in several different formats. You can read it online or download it. But you cannot use material from this book for other projects to be sold or distributed to the public without obtaining permission from UCLA. The material is still under copyright protection.

Get your copy from the Internet Archive now.

In his own words

In his own words…

For a slide show:

Notes written presumably for a class in the late 60s-early 70s. Found in a cupboard in Three Rivers, Lautner’s vacation home in California, in 2004. The notes are handwritten by Lautner, on 9-1/2 pages of 8-1/2 X 14 paper, transcribed by Judy Lautner in November 2004. Some words were illegible; these are indicated with question marks.

I don’t believe the essence of Architecture has much to do with the techniques or styles or rationales of the moment. (Architecture occurs all thru the ages and still is Architecture.) I think we must more than ever seek and continually search for the real ideals and bases of Architecture – as Human Guides to wade through the morass of pressures to regiment – to expedite etc. The world’s richest nation should be able to produce a free – beautiful – Architecture for individuals – for people – to daily increase the Joy in life. Too much of what goes on today are “facilities” as announced in our papers and magazines. They are seldom Architecture but presumably practical, economic executions of so many square feet of floor with lots of machinery and very little for the whole human being – places where one can work until one can get out – when they should be places where one would like to stay and work better and more. Architecture being involved with everything is like life itself when it is real Architecture – alive, fresh, exhilarating – yet solid and enduring. In getting at basics right now, it is difficult to think clearly with the barrage of advertising and the promotions masquerading as progress. We must consider what is real progress – I think of my decision as a student to choose Architecture – I tried to approach from fundamentals – Food – Clothing – Shelter – I thought therefore Architecture one of three basic needs of man. Later in practice I found Food and clothing to be the most important, Architecture is rarely known so I guess still a luxury. I think unfortunately sometimes called that even by so called Architects. You either make money or do Architecture. Well, trying to see what progress is or isn’t – for instance I find an analogy in food today – The other day I visited a house where there were fresh ripe cantaloupe on the table – I could smell them – delightful – then I ate one – ripe – with real flavor – a real pleasure of life of course this is seasonal & now with the progress of merchandising we have refrigerated green melons – all year but not worth eating – this is called progress – So in building we have a lot of refrigerated green melons – One could reevaluate our whole civilization and should to get iat why to live – how to live – how to build to live. This is a lifetime treatise that can’t be done in one speech – but I am trying to give a clue to thinking to apply to all our technological development etc. and keep them in their best position for what I have been talking about is the thinking and bases to see and do what man really needs. No one manufactures or sells in this area (it is too intangible). This is for the Architect. Actually many of the new problems may not be new except in physical numbers as man as a human being hasn’t changed much. As handy as it would be to make man a statistic it is not valid. It might be done with dope and I guess it is even considered – but then its it worth living? I find we have achieved windowless air conditions environments. We have never considered all the possibilities of just natural light and ventilation – We seldom see a ventilated building so we must have air conditions – The banks require it – we forget what the people require – The basics. As far as structure is concerned I think we should continually experiment and discover every new material and method and use it. I have been working with tension structures and polyurethane foam – I believe one can design lightweight yet permanent buildings, free and fast to build. The techniques however are not pushed fast enough or far enough to have the freedom one should have right now. Finance is a real lag here where twenty or fifty year old techniques are required for safety of the investor. This is one of the toughest problems in real progress of building. Also almost out of the realm of any school – maybe it should be studied more as it could allow new ideas to actually be executed. I have worked with new ideas and had my neck out a mile ever since I started practice – fortunately I found a few individuals who believed and managed the cash as a subordinate factor. Otherwise I would have been able to do nothing. This may sound too idealistic for now but we need it more and more to make Architecture rather than facilities. The space age is progressing because it is right from scratch with no precedents. The idea Go to the moon – tech. & sim(?) – We should do this with Architecture.

Theoretically our technology can give us a society in which the material needs of man can almost automatically be generated – leaving man free to rise to new intellectual, cultural, and spiritual heights, which we skip | For immediate facts(?). Also technology can annihilate our whole society. Also with nuclear energy we may eventually control weather – and maybe need no buildings? Technology will give us more command (communication?) more knowledge of information but if we do not concentrate on the social and human values the world will be better for the machines than for human beings. I think we need more philosophers to help guide the use of sciences which are so far advanced by themselves. The Architect as an artist for human environment must see what produces and constitutes the essential greatness of our civilization – or man will be a statistic.

After being a little padrous (?) & grim – Architecture is tough here are a few more clues to what it is – Eliz.

As far as New Theories and processes in Architecture is concerned – There is no escaping conceiving a whole idea First – from all the knowledge and information you can correlate simultaneously. To create Architecture and Planning. As a practitioner I try to use and think of new and better ways all the time – This is a lifetime process. Unfortunately there are so many forces against new ideas you must fight all the way – a building code can stop an idea for twenty years alone etc. I think the best way is by doing and in school you should build actual mock-ups or building to really learn and understand. I didn’t used to believe in talking at all there is so little real communication so I have been doing what I could by building. So now with some slides I will try to show some of the new things actually executed over a period of 27 years – Frank Lloyd Wright said you can’t begin to be an Architect until you are forty years old – you don’t know enough – I feel as though I am still beginning, I think if you do not you are dead. There is no end – so you can stay alive all your life in Architecture – well here are some pictures –

Note in JL’s handwriting, found in Three Rivers:


  1. Arizona sky – air – landscape
  2. Michigan – seasons & Lake Superior – best
  3. French films
  4. New architecture & building – space
  5. Infinity
  6. Beauty