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Designing the Good Life
The Architecture of William Krisel at MODAA
Twin Palms Estates
Courtesy MODAA Gallery

The Architecture of William Krisel
SPF:a Gallery at MODAA
8609 Washington Blvd., Culver City
Through January 15, 2009

William Krisel, the architect who played a major role in putting a modernist stamp on Palm Springs and wide expanses of the San Fernando Valley, is the subject of this small exhibit at the MODAA Gallery. Krisel, who is still alive, was part of an outstanding crop of architects to emerge from the University of Southern California after World War II. His early influences were Raphael Soriano and Garrett Eckbo; he apprenticed with Paul Laszlo and later, Victor Gruen.

Krisel formed the firm Palmer & Krisel with partner Dan Palmer in 1924. Their work during the 1940s and 50s reflected the hopes of tract-home builders to deliver an informal and invigorating lifestyle for a minimal price. By the mid-50s, Krisel had designed more than 10,000 homes, with flat, A-frame, or butterfly roofs, screened entries, open floor plans, high-beamed ceilings, breezeways, and landscaped yards. Somehow, the workaholic had a hand in all of them. Popular developments in Palm Springs included Las Palmas Estates and Royal Desert Palms, a group of tract houses developed by Bob Alexander, captured in black and white by Julius Shulman. Similar pictures of Krisel’s work are bustling with women in A-line skirts and men pushing babies in prams. This was the good life, circa Ike.

Over his 51-year career, Krisel expanded into office buildings and apartment towers, holding firm to his modernist roots. He also built the House of Tomorrow, an experiment in modern living that impressed developer Alexander so much that he made it his personal residence. Even today, builders in Southern California are recreating versions of Krisel’s old houses for hip new owners: Once again, his style is bringing modernism to the rest of us.

The exhibit includes 64 large renderings, along with 14 evocative photographs and numerous reproductions of floor plans that all capture the simple but elegant and lively spirit of Krisel’s work. Unfortunately, other than an introductory note, none of the individual displays are identified by year, location, or project description. Without this information, it is hard to gain a deeper appreciation for the work of a man who did so much to shape the parched, unanimated landscape of Southern California.

Greg Goldin