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
Posts tagged with "A. Lawrence Kocher":
The landmark Aluminaire House is homeless yet again. The situation is not so out of the ordinary, however, as preservationists and communities have recently been confronted with the futures of these pioneering modernist structures. In this particular battle, a team of architects is hoping to relocate the historic house, which has already been disassembled and rebuilt three times, to a vacant lot in Sunnyside Gardens, a landmarked district in Queens. The proposal to reassemble the house as part of a low-rise residential development at 39th Avenue and 50th Street is facing uncertainty from residents who would prefer the site be turned into a community park. Architects A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey designed Aluminaire as a case study in 1931. Constructed of donated materials and built in ten days, the first all-metal, prefabricated house in the country debuted at the Allied Arts and Industry and Architectural League Exhibition. Subsequently, the house was sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison who disassembled and moved it to Long Island. New York Institute of Technology then reassembled the structure on its campus, which has since closed, leaving the structure to the Aluminaire House Foundation, which has disassembled and stored it. The Foundation now seeks a low-rise, high-density New York neighborhood to display the building as it was initially intended – as a low cost urban home prototype. Residents are concerned that the house’s design does not belong with the area’s traditional brick housing scheme. Still, Sunnyside Gardens and Aluminaire have a history together—they were both featured in a 1932 MoMA modern architecture exhibit. Reconstructing the house in Sunnyside would actually place Aluminaire within its planned context. The project embarked on its lengthy journey through the public approval process at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting last month. The foundation is scheduled to present to the commission in September. For now, the house is in storage.
The Aluminaire House is homeless once again. Built in 1931 for the Allied Arts and Industry and Architectural League Exhibition, the house introduced prefabricated design methods espoused by Le Corbusier to an American audience. Corbu disciple Albert Frey designed the house with A. Lawrence Kocher, onetime editor at Architectural Record. After more than 100,000 visitors passed through, the architect Wallace Harrision snapped it up and placed it on his estate to be used as guest house. The building later was featured in Hitchcock and Johnson's 1932 MoMA exhibition and in their book The International Style. Eventually, the house came under the care of the New York Institute of Technology and onto their former Islip campus. Last month, the house was dismantled once again and handed over to the newly formed Aluminaire House Foundation, run by architects Frances Campani and Michael Schwarting of Campani and Schwarting Architects. It would seem that the repetitious reassembly and dismantling has inadvertently supported the modular mass production theories of the house’s designers. With that in mind, the foundation is looking for a low-rise high-density site on the outskirts of New York City where the house might not necessarily be an aesthetic fit, but a theoretical one. In a telephone interview Schwarting said that that a place like Forrest Hills Queens, where Kocher once lived, might be an interesting notion, in so much as this too was middle class housing for a planned community. The group has also identified a site in Sunnyside Gardens, which was arose in nearly same period of the Aluminaire, but was built in a stripped-down colonial revival style. But Schwarting noted that, like Sunnyside's housing stock, the plan for the house was to be as repeatable as the multiblock redbrick abodes found there. “They were both looking at housing problems at the same time,” said Schwarting. “They’re visually very different, but they were addressing the same issues.” The group has looked into other locales and entities. They’ve been in touch with Barry Bergdoll at MoMA. “It’s fairly demanding in putting the house back together the way it was,” said Schwarting. “With a museum it becomes an art object and I don’t think we need to go that far.” Giving the house over to a public entity such as the Parks Department would involve all negotiating a caretaker situation with a department that is already stretched to the limit, as was demonstrated in the recent Poe Park Visitor Center debacle. They even talked to Richard Meier as he did the layout for the Houses of Sagaponac development, but that deal fell through, which was probably a fortuitous. “We hope to return to the house to the agenda of the early modern movement,” said Schwarting. “If we can put it in a reasonable setting, where its original intentions for affordable housing are reflected, that would be ideal.”