wood clad ranch style homes connected in a desert landscape and gravel drive

John Lautner’s Organic Architecture in the Desert

Inspiration abounds in the architect’s restored modernist compound near Palm Springs

Set incongruously in the Southern California desert on a street lined with modest ranch-style homes, the Lautner Compound is a cluster of four attached homes with undulating steel and concrete roofs partially set down into the earth. The dwellings are ingeniously nested together, achieving privacy and connection to the desert while occupying a surprisingly small footprint.

For years, the buildings were known to fans of midcentury architect John Lautner as the only surviving multifamily project he designed, but they were otherwise overlooked and neglected as nearby Palm Springs became justly famous for its modern houses.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the current owners, the compound has been restored and updated, and it was featured in Palm Springs’ Modernism Week this year. Read on to learn more about the design and renovation of this iconic cluster of buildings.

(Top photo by Dan Chavkin)

vintage mid-century modern connected ranch homes in the desert
The sloped roofs of the dwellings echo the shape of the mountains in the distance. The units’ asymmetrical roofs, with a low slope on one side and a steeper pitch on the other, give a more naturalistic appearance to the ensemble. Archival photo by Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust
mid-century modern furnished living room
The sunken interior of one dwelling in the Lautner Compound overlooks a cactus garden and terrace through a continuous wall of glass, with a glimpse of the sky above the surrounding high concrete walls. Photo by Mike Schwartz
mid-century modern cad drawing floor plan
The living units nest together. The total footprint for the four, including parking and terrace-garden, is only 4,750 square feet.