Inside Never Before Seen Desert Modern Architecture in Palm Springs, California

Just in time for Modernism Week—a celebration of Desert Modern architecture in Palm Springs that runs through February 21—Gibbs Smith has released two books dedicated to the area’s distinctive homes. William Krisel’s Palm Springscelebrates the architect’s iconic midcentury-modern homes in Southern California, many of which were mass-produced.Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern looks beyond the Coachella Valley staples—the Frank Sinatra home, Bing Crosby’s estate, Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House—and places a focus on never-before-seen Desert Modern gems. The selection ranges from out-there 20th-century houses of worship to groovy private homes in gated neighborhoods that are not accessible to the public.

William Krisel was a pioneer of tract housing, where homes of a similar design are built side by side on individual lots. Here is an early example of the concept with a flat roof, built in 1956.

palm-springs-modernism-07.jpgThe gable roofline of this home at Canyon View Estates echoes the surrounding mountains.


The gable roofline of this home at Canyon View Estates echoes the surrounding mountains.


The Menrad Residence in Twin Palms has equally modernist landscaping.


A new version of Krisel’s famous butterfly roof house was built in 2009.


When the Fontenell, built by B. Cody in 1958, was purchased by cosmetics magnate Max Factor in 1960, the seven-unit apartment complex was transformed into a sprawling family retreat.


The Annenberg Center for Health Sciences, by architecture firm Williams, Clark and Williams, features a skylit rotunda that houses a 485-seat theater and several classrooms.

palm-springs-modernism-03.jpgLa Casa di Ucello Bianca—a post-and-beam home custom built in 1956—was recently restored by its owners.


The entrance of Stan Sackley’s 25 Palms, built in 1963, is distinguished by a pair of peacock-blue doors.
The Morrison-Strassner Residence, in Thunderbird Heights, is composed of one main circular structure and other circular configurations. The interior is defined by stark white structural beams that cast striking shadows.
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The Andes House’s Ensamble Project Uses Hardboard to Create Workspaces

Hardboard is a wooden fiberboard that is produced by compression at high temperatures, making a smooth and uniform surface. It is known for being highly flexible and very resistant to humidity. In spite of these qualities, the product has been pigeonholed for specific uses — rear panels, bases, packaging — losing visibility and importance in the world of architecture and design.

Ph. Carlos Molina Barriga.
Ph. Carlos Molina Barriga.

Hoping to change how the material is viewed by designers and architects, Arauco invited The Andes House to develop an attractive and innovative solution that would allow the product’s advantages to really stand out. With experience designing products using very basic raw materials such as wicker and pine, the team at The Andes House created Ensamble, the project that we’re presenting to you now.

Ph. Carlos Molina Barriga.
Ph. Carlos Molina Barriga.

The project took 6 months to complete, and was divided into 3 stages:

  • Analysis: gather information about the product, production process, technical specifications. Visit the plant, meet with furniture makers and conduct interviews with people at Arauco.

  • Design and development of the boards: test boards to understand their potential

  • Design and development of products: define, design, and construct final products.

They then designed tools to fulfill  the maximum potential of these qualities, like a compression system to make curves and applying water to improve flexibility.

The project doesn’t require any other elements to build, and works by fitting the pieces together. “The union is 100% the result of the integrity of the panel. The material itself  provides the conditions to be able to generate different units.”

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