The house that Frederic Lyman (1927-2005) built for himself in the Malibu Hills in 1960 won acclaim but was incinerated in the Las Flores fire of 1993. In his foreword to this study of a forgotten architect, Ray Kappe describes it as a masterpiece, and Cory Buckner remembers her years of working there as Lyman’s apprentice. The experience launched her architectural practice and led on to her efforts to restore and preserve A. Quincy Jones’ houses in Crestwood Hills.

In this self-published tribute, Buckner describes her mentor as “a dreamer and a visionary.” Lyman graduated from Yale, studied engineering in New York and then headed West in 1955, taking a job with Richard Neutra and joining friends as a resident of the Schindler house-studio, where he set up his own practice. As a brilliant draftsman and a man of great personal charm he had the potential to  rival the success of Ray Kappe with  a very similar brand of woodsy modernism. A succession of projects are  shown in colored renderings, most of which are now conserved in the Getty Archives. Almost none was realized and, by the 1970s, Lyman had become discouraged and relocated to Minnesota, where he bought land in the hope of establishing an architecture school as innovative as SCI-Arc, but discovered it was beyond his means. Back in Los Angeles, he had a second career as an environmental activist, working with groups in Malibu and with the AIA. And he co-founded LA Architect, the forerunner of Form.

Happily his drawings survive, along with Marvin Rand’s photographs of Lyman’s house: a massive wood structure inspired by Katsura and the temples of Ise. The north and south facades are fully glazed, and Buckner compares the house to the glass houses that Mies designed for Edith Farnsworth and Philip Johnson for himself.  For Lyman, the transparency was about opening the house to mountain vistas and allowing winter sun to warm the floor. For Buckner it’s all about masculinity and control, and the unease she felt while working there. “I rarely felt observed during the day but dressed appropriately anyway, since there was no wall to duck behind  to hide from prying eyes,” she writes. “As with the Farnsworth House and the Glass House, we must submit to the creator’s intention and try to emulate the assurance of the male architect as he stares unflinchingly outward into the public gaze.”

The Lyman House and the Work of Frederic P.Lyman: Drawing and Building. Cory Buckner. (Crestwood Hills Press, $29.95)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.

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