Palm Springs Modernism Week 2015: The Coachella valley’s mid-century Mecca comes of age

Image of house and palm trees
After ten days of home tours, seminars and poolside cocktail parties, the tenth edition of Palm Springs Modernism Week drew to a close on Sunday.
(Image credit: David A. Lee)

Among the usual roster of envy-inducing home tours and poolside cocktail parties at Palm Springs Modernism Week, a number of other exciting launches and openings were also in the mix this year. The arrival of the new Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center was a particular highlight of the 10-day annual architecture festival. Housed in a former 1960s bank building designed by E. Stewart Williams, the project was overseen by Los Angeles architects Marmol Radziner, whose subtle interventions have ensured a harmonious balance between old and new with original features such as the terrazzo flooring and the movable, anodized aluminum sunscreens all being painstakingly restored.

'It was an amazing and fantastic experience to work on the project,' says architect Leo Marmol. 'Very few cities have stand alone museums committed to architecture and design and the fact that there's one here in Palm Springs indicates the level of interest and commitment and focus on its design history.'

Indeed, interest in the city's architectural heritage has been building since the mid 90s when Palm Springs' many midcentury marvels were rediscovered thanks to early refurbishment projects like Marmol Radziner's 1993 restoration of Richard Neutra's 1947 Kaufmann house. The project sparked national and international interest and kick started a period of rejuvenation that is still going strong over 20-years later - now spearheaded by the city's Modernism Week, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. 'It was just a forgotten little community with boarded-up, dusty old buildings and an economy that was in a shambles,' remembers Marmol. 'It's been amazing to watch the transition.'

With Modernism Week now generating an estimated $17 million in income each year, the city is attracting a new generation of influencers and creatives who are choosing to invest their time and money in Palm Spring's vibrant hospitality industry. Within the past year Toronto-born photographer and entrepreneur Jaime Kowal has launched a trio of ventures including The Amado - a collection of 5 boutique vacation rental units - a coffee shop and a Tiki bar all in Palm Springs' uptown design district and geared towards a younger generation of design-savvy visitor.

'This really is the new face of Palm Springs and it was sorely needed,' says Kowal of the city's new wave of stylish hospitality options. The upswing is down to a combination of factors she tells us: 'The economy has picked up in past few years but real estate is still much more affordable here than it is in LA. Festivals like Coachella are bringing in a new audience and hotels like the Ace are attracting creatives from LA, Las Vegas and San Diego. All of these things are building blocks that over time have culturally, socially and economically shaped the place that we're in now.' With an AC Marriott hotel slated to open in 2017, a Kimpton Hotel in Spring 2016 and the highly anticipated 'Arrive' hotel - a collaboration between developer John Wessmen and architect Chris Pardo - launching later this year, it would seem that Palm Springs' architectural investment is finally paying off in spades.

Palm Springs Art Museum

As well as its 10th anniversary, Modernism Week 2015 celebrated the opening of the new Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center.

(Image credit: David Glomb)

Close view of Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Cente

The new museum is housed in a former 1960s bank building designed by E. Stewart Williams and carefully restored by Marmol Radziner.

(Image credit: David Glomb)

House with swimming pool

Chris Menrad's William Krisel-designed home, the Menrad House, in Twin Palms played host to a remarkable exhibition by young Australian photographer Tom Blachford

(Image credit: Tom Blachford)

’Midnight Modern’ series features Palm Springs’

Blachford's 'Midnight Modern' series features Palm Springs' iconic homes photographed by moonlight.

(Image credit: Tom Blachford)

Photo of swimming pool

The long exposure photographs were originally taken in secret but after reaching out to Menrad, who is also the president of Palm Springs Modern Committee, Blachford was granted unprecedented access to the community's homes including the notoriously hard-to-access Kaufmann Desert House, pictured.

(Image credit: Tom Blachford)

Kaufmann Desert House

Taking advantage of Palm Springs' minimal light pollution and cloudless skies, each of the 26 vivid shots took Blachford between one and four minutes to capture.

(Image credit: Tom Blachford)

Moonlit photographs of the Menrad House

The series includes moonlit photographs of the Menrad House, pictured, where the exhibition took place.

(Image credit: Tom Blachford)

House with swimming pool, lounge chairs

Each year, Palm Springs Modernism Week sees residents open up the doors to their homes for the event's 45,000 visitors. The home tours are a mix of new builds (with developers hoping for a quick sale) and lovingly restored and lived-in homes such as this Hugh Kaptur-designed residence

(Image credit: press)

Rear walls of floor-to-ceiling glass

Hugh Kaptur's homes are distinguished by their fortress-like facades counterbalanced with rear walls of floor-to-ceiling glass

(Image credit: press)

Dinning room of the house

One of the most impressive new builds was KUD Development's first-ever repro of an original Joseph Eichler house

(Image credit: press)

House Originally designed by Claude Oakland

Originally designed by Claude Oakland in the 1960s, it's rumoured this house sold in just seven hours. Eight more Eichler homes are planned for the Palm Springs area

(Image credit: press)

Swimming pool of the house

Built in 1956 by local contractor Sam Pascal in the 1947 Trousdales Development this 1950s home has few alterations

(Image credit: press)

Yellow brick indoor barbecue into the living room

Part of the original build, a yellow brick indoor barbecue is built into the living room - a feature that proved to be less successful

(Image credit: press)

Room furnished with carefully-sourced vintage pieces

The kitchen retains many of its original fittings and is furnished with carefully-sourced vintage pieces

(Image credit: press)

The bedroom in the 1956

The bedroom in the 1956 residence

(Image credit: press)

Amado complex offers boutique

Opened in 2014, local entrepreneur Jaime Kowal's Amado complex offers boutique accommodation for contemporary travellers.

(Image credit: Jaime Kowal)

Five luxury suites with heated pool

Located just minutes from downtown Palm Springs, The Amado sanctuary boasts five luxury suites nestled within a private courtyard with a heated pool, mature citrus trees and ample lounging space

(Image credit: Jaime Kowal)

The exuberant hyperbolic paraboloid roof

The exuberant hyperbolic paraboloid roof of Albert Frey's gas station is a perfect demonstration of the innovations in engineering technology that were taking place in Palm Springs' architectural heyday

(Image credit: press)

Vintage Travel Trailer Show

The week's festivities include a Vintage Travel Trailer Show.

(Image credit: Gregg Felsen)