Explore Palm Springs during Modernism Week...
While you're in Palm Springs for Modernism Week (13-23 February) don't miss our iconic modernist house picks, and midcentury landmarks such as the Palms Springs Art Museum designed by E. Stewart Williams and the Bank of America
Frey House II
Frey House II, designed by architect Albert Frey can be found nestled into the side of the San Jacinto mountains with views across the Coachella valley. The house, Frey's second home in Palm Springs, is compact, at approximately 800 sq ft, and very private, with a curved pool and patio sunk into the rocky surroundings. Frey (1903-1998) is widely recognised as one of the trailblazers of the area’s remarkable architectural legacy.
Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum designed by E. Stewart Williams is a chunky concrete and pebble-dash structure sheltered by the San Jacinto Mountain range. It was Williams’ final project, completed in 1996 when he was 87 years old. The weighty museum is formed of a long rectangle structure set on two squares, each rotated 45 degrees to create triangular over-hangs. With it’s double entry staircase framing a square pool of water, it is almost Mayan in its geometry, yet the building hunkers low, pledging its allegiance to desert modernism.
The House of Tomorrow
The House of Tomorrow was originally built in 1960 by well-known developer Robert Alexander for his family when they moved to Palm Springs. The house was their dream home, built in four circles on three levels with four bedrooms and five bathrooms. From 1966-67, Elvis and Priscilla Presley lived in Palm Springs at the The House of Tomorrow, which they nicknamed the ‘Honeymoon Hideaway’ after they visited the house for their honeymoon in May 1967. The story goes that Elvis lifted Priscilla over the threshold Hollywood style. Perhaps not surprisingly, their daughter Lisa Marie Presley was born nine months later.
Bank of America
A beacon of civic mid-century moderism at the heart of Palm Springs is the Bank of America building, designed by Victor Gruen Associates and Rudy Baumfield. (It was known as the City National Bank when it completed in 1959). Located on South Palm Canyon Drive, the building’s bold blue curved form was inspired by the shape of Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp. The building is born from the booming Commercial Modern movement of the 1950s and 1960s that saw architects exploring modernism on a larger, public scale.
Park Imperial South
Architect Barry Berkus’ over-50-year career started at his first completed design, Park Imperial South near Palm Canyon in Palm Springs. He designed the structure in 1960, when he was just 25, as a ‘living resort’ adapted to desert life. The collection of 30 homes, each at 1,400 sq ft, shows off many elements of midcentury modern architecture, such as the sculptural concrete block walls, floor to ceiling windows and triangular clerestory windows. The folded roof was inspired by the peaks of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains.
Raymond Loewy commissioned architect Albert Frey to design his Palm Springs home in 1946 on a rocky site overlooking Palm Springs. It was here that the industrial designer, developed the concepts of Air Force One, the Studebaker Avanti automobile, and the Exxon logo. Loewy influenced the design of transportation across America including the Greyhound bus and even NASA’s space capsules, as well as household items.
Palm Springs Visitors Center
Tramway Gas Station, a former Enco services in Palm Springs, is a somewhat unlikely mid-century modern icon. So named because of its location at the base of the Tramway Road, it was intended to be the first thing visitors to the area saw, when approaching from Route 111. Its visibility (especially thanks to its distinctive, cantileverd canopy, added in 1965 and designed by Albert Frey and Robson C Chambers) makes it the prime spot for a visitor centre. Now, it’s a calling card of modernist design, often studied as a perfect example, and frequently copied since.
Comedian Bob Hope and his wife Dolores’ 10-bedroom holiday home was designed by John Lautner and built in 1979. The building is said to have been inspired by a volcano, although it’s also been likened to a mushroom. The curved triangular roof features a huge crater-like aperture at its centre, opening the interiors up to the sky. A problematic project for Lautner, the house was destroyed by a fire during construction and the Hopes micromanaged the design, leaving him less than pleased with the outcome. Nonetheless, the finished product is Lautner’s largest residential project and has been hailed as the most dramatic.
The Kaufmann house
The Kaufmann house was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann senior, department store owner, who also commissioned Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright, completed in 1938. Richard Neutra’s design for the holiday house responded to the desert environment with its sliding glazed doors that seamlessly partition indoor and out, and cool open-plan interiors that fold out into wings for sleeping, swimming and entering the house. The glass and steel house created light, cool and airy spaces, while the stone anchored the home into the unique geographic context of Palm Springs.
Racquet Club Cottages West
William Cody’s serene group of cottages at the Racquet Club West was commissioned by Los Angeles developer Paul Trousdale who worked with Cody to create a quiet modern enclave of 37 homes as an antidote to the celebrity-filled Palm Springs life. Built in 1960, the cottages are immersed in an oasis of palm trees, curved pathways and meandering streams and rarely seen by outsiders. The houses feature exposed beams, thin rooflines, private patios, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, and room service delivered from the nearby Palm Springs Racquet Club.
Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
Last chance to see: Sharjah Biennial 15, ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’
Built on the vision of late curator Okwui Enwezor, the Sharjah Biennial 15: ‘Thinking Historically in the Present’ offers a critical reframing of postcolonial narratives through major new commissions
By Amah-Rose Abrams • Published
For London Gallery Weekend 2023, the mood is hardcore
With London Gallery Weekend 2023 almost upon us (2 – 4 June), here’s our list of must-see art exhibitions
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith • Published
Birkenstock celebrates its most memorable styles with colourful capsule (and matching socks)
Birkenstock marks the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Gizeh, Arizona and Madrid sandals, respectively, with limited-edition versions
By Jack Moss • Published