Sunday, May 9, 2010

Design and the Memory of Light


This is a little sketch - story, of the Sheats Goldstein Residence
(Originally designed for Helen and Paul Sheats in 1949 - Architect John Lautner)

 There is an embedded intelligence here ...

In his mid-career John Lautner was approached by Paul Sheats to design a home for him and his wife Helen. He told John stories of how Helen was fond of her childhood memories - running in the forest. Paul Sheats spoke for some time about the magic Helen felt while running through the forest and just looking up into the canopy of leaves above her. They were fond childhood memories and Paul wanted to give his wife a home in which those memories had the potential be revisited.

John listened intently to the stories and began to develop a strategy. Lautner drove out to the forest and began to wander. He tried to image what it might be like for a child to experience the 'magic' of the forest.

He was enamored by the quality of the light dancing through the tree top canopy. He felt the trickle of light reflecting off his body and the ground as he moved slowly up the forest path.

He imaged what he could do to invoke that feeling for Paul and Helen Sheats in the design of their home.
He developed a roof design, which invoked the feeling of light trickling through a forest canopy. He did it by inserting regular drinking glasses into a poured concrete waffle slab. He angled the roof towards the sun in order to optimize the amount of light penetration through the glasses embedded within the roof. In doing so he also developed the feeling of the space below.

The roof became a hybrid of roof and wall. One corner touches down on the ground. I have never seen this done in any other building before this. This is the first instance where roof is also wall that I can think of. This came about only through his genius and listening to the client. The interaction with Paul and Helen guided him to the final design. Because if this, I find the Sheats Goldstein residence to be an example of Honest Architecture.

Sadly the original ceiling has been clad over with wood. The idea in a way has been kept alive by not covering the exterior section of the waffle slab. Although the ceiling is now hidden the story the idea are still alive. Let's hope that the original roof is restored and exposed to show 'what can do, the memory of light'.


  1. The redwood on the flat part of the living room ceiling is not where any of the glassware was installed. One walk on the rooftop will confirm this. All the glassware is still as visible from the rooftop, from the pool deck and from inside the living room, as originally intended.

    Look for pics of the living room on Google, the angled sections of the roof/wall, as you described it, are not covered by the redwood.

    Great blog entry you've written, btw. The drawings are particularly cool.

  2. Anonymous - thanks so much for the clarification. Very happy about that.