After a long and winding journey, the Aluminaire House has finally found a permanent home in Palm Springs, California.
The 1,200-square-foot, all-metal house arrived in the high desert early last year on the back of a freight truck, just in time for the annual Modernism Week celebration. The home was greeted by a hero’s welcome after having just completed the final leg of a perilous journey from New York, where it had been installed, inhabited, and exhibited variously over the decades. The disassembled structure has sat in storage in the months since, as preparations continue for its final installation as a house museum and interpretive center in conjunction with the development of a new two-acre downtown plaza designed by Los Angeles–based Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH Studios).
The iconic all-steel structure was designed in 1931 by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher as a prototype for a new kind of efficient and modern domestic life. The experimental home was initially exhibited in 1931 at the Grand Central Palace in New York City by the Allied Arts and Industries and the Architectural League of New York and was shown to the public again the following year by the Museum of Modern Art.
The Aluminaire House was then purchased and moved by architect Wallace Harrison to his estate in Long Island, where it served as a guest house until 1986, when it was moved to the Central Islip campus of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) by architects Frances Campani and Michael Schwarting in order to prevent its demolition. Although the NYIT Central Islip campus closed down in 2005, the Aluminaire House remained installed there until 2012, when it was disassembled by Campani and Schwarting and stored for posterity. The home was nearly installed in Sunnyside, Queens as part of a new townhouse development the following year, but the plan was scuttled after neighborhood opposition arose against the project.
The Aluminaire Foundation sprung up in 2013 and began preparations for moving the home out west to Palm Springs, one of the region’s many cradles of mid century modern architecture and design.
When construction completed in 2020 on the new Palm Springs Downtown Park, the home willoccupy a prominent perch on Museum Drive, surrounded by a grove of trees, an outdoor gallery, and the rest of the park—just across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Nate Cormier, principal at RCH Studio, said, “The Aluminaire House was a key element of the park from the start of the most recent round of conceptual design work. As fans of modern architecture, we were excited about its incorporation, but we were also challenged to find a way to give it its own space.”
According to the architect, the city’s new town square will stitch together a series of disparate elements—including the Aluminaire House, a central pond and lawn, and a 28-foot-tall statue dedicated to Marilyn Monroe—in a new urban setting studded with plant species taken from local canyons and hiking trails. With California fan palms, Honey Mesquite trees, white sage, chuparosa, and Indian Tea shrubs, the park will aim to provide urban amenities using a locally-derived plant palate.Cormier added, “The park is an urban oasis, a rustic retreat [meant to] offer comforts and delights that are rooted in the intrinsic qualities of the regional landscape.”
The Aluminaire House will sit on its own site adjacent to the main square to establish “a more residential relationship with the adjacent streets,” as Cormier explains. There, the restored home will be maintained by the Aluminaire Foundation as a public resource.
Cormier and RCH Studios founding partner Mark Rios will be presenting the final schematic designs for the park at a special community update for the park Friday, February 23 at Palm Springs Art Museum in conjunction with Modernism Week. See the event website for more information