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 "Modernism Week":
Palm Springs's Modernism Week, the desert city’s celebration of its modernist architecture, has just concluded a ten-day run. Founded in 2006, it typically features tours to the city’s iconic post-World War II modern homes and occasional commercial or institutional buildings, making it the most important event of its kind in the United States. In addition, it typically highlights a single important building every year, such as last year when it featured its Architecture Museum (a Marmol Radziner–designed renovation of the 1961 Savings and Loan building by E. Stewart Williams ), William Kriesel’s all-steel house tract development, and Sunnylands (the A. Quincy Jones–designed single bedroom mansion for the Annenberg family surrounded by a private 9-hole golf course). This year it highlighted the life and work of the architect John Lautner who designed the Elrod House in Palm Springs and a small motel now called The Lautner just down the road in Desert Hot Springs. It was only four years ago that architecture historian Jean-Louis Chen told a large Modernism Week crowd that Lautner hated the sober lines of the city’s midcentury modern architecture. But this year Lautner was memorialized, in true Southern California fashion, with his own ‘Star’ embedded in the sidewalk of Palm Canyon Drive, the city’s main thoroughfare. In addition, this year Modernism Week programmed a series of events around the arrival of Albert Frey’s 1931 Aluminaire House, which was transported from its home on Long Island to the dry desert air of the Coachella Valley. The flat-packed house sat all week on Palm Canyon Drive (next to Lautner’s star) in a large truck but will be resurrected on a city-owned site in the next twelve months. The organizers of Modernism Week also program lectures and presentations and this year I served on a panel Preservation Power Houses, Who, What, Why of Preservation and the Forces that Make it Happen. The panel featured many of California’s most important advocates and administrators responsible for the preservation of the state landmarks. The panel discussed the current state of preservation in California, current legislation affecting listing, and concluded with a discussion on how we might move preservation beyond highlighting only distinguished landmarks to saving structures and complexes that create the texture of neighborhoods. This might include, for example, California’s unique post-World War II typology of public schools. These stick-and-plaster built complexes, typically with breezeway arms of classrooms, spread from a central core out to large playgrounds. They arose out of the state's unique Mediterranean climate and the demand created by a population explosion in the 1950s. These schools represent an era when public education was promoted through modern architecture and they still define the progressive modernism of the state. It was an optimistic ending to the topic of preservation and the event had a large and enthusiastic audience interested in preserving modern architecture. Modernism Week always seems to attract to the desert a passionate and devoted audience that appreciates architecture and design and this year was no different. Finally, I visited Desert Palisades, a new development in an extraordinary 112-acre lunar-like landscape of boulders, located at the bottom of Chino Canyon. It will eventually accommodate 113 homes but opened with its first two houses by architects Lance O’Donnell and Case Studies architect Al Beadle; we will report on this development in a later article. The Palisades development is also the site of the first sculpture by artist Doug Aitken for the newly launched Desert X program of sculptures that embrace and celebrate the landscape and human issues of the desert. The Atkins piece is a domestic structure (not habitable) that will eventually be covered entirely with a glass-like surface meant to reflect the surrounding landscape back to the viewer. Last week it was only a frame structure that looked as if it were being blown away by strong desert winds. Desert X organizers claim it will consider the desert as not just a natural landscape but also a social construct of preconceived notions and real estate development. The sculptures will be installed over the next few months and will feature the structure when they are completed.
The 1931 Aluminaire House, like The Architect’s Newspaper, is leaving New York and headed to Palm Springs for Modernism Week. A new Paul Goldberger-narrated video tells the story of the Kocher and Frey-designed house and its journey from MoMA to Long Island and—this morning—to Palm Springs where it will arrive on February 14. In California, its first stop will be the Tramway Gas Station/Visitors Center, also designed by Frey, for a media event, and then it will be on display for the 11 days of Modernism Week. Afterward, the Aluminaire will again be in storage until the City of Palm Springs completes the design and construction of the new Downtown Palm Springs Park. There, directly across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Aluminaire will be reassembled and opened to the public, with funds raised by the ongoing work of the Aluminaire House Foundation.
File under “X.” A new happening is coming to California’s high desert. Slated to open in February 2017, Desert X is “three-month site-specific international contemporary art exhibition,” aka, an arid art event timed to align with Palm Spring’s Modernism Week as well as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Writer and curator Neville Wakefield, known for curating site-specific works, will serve as inaugural artistic director. It’s promised that his knack for engaging alternative spaces will be on view as artists install in non-traditional spaces—one might expect landscape interventions a la High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree—as well as more conventional settings such as the Palm Springs Art Museum, a late modern design by architect E. Stewart Williams and A. Quincy Jones’ midcentury Sunnylands Center & Gardens, renovated by Frederick Fisher and Partners in 2012. “The desert has long exercised its fascination over the minds of artists, architects, musicians, writers and other explorers of landscape and soul,” noted Wakefield. He sets a high bar for the commissioned art works, asking that they simultaneously reflect the ideals and politics of the contemporary art world and respond to the desert context. The press release suggests that the pieces will “amplify and cast a gimlet eye on the geographies, ethnic/social and historical/geologic layers that exist in the southern California desert, while also looking to major movements in contemporary art world-wide.” The exact hows and whos of Desert X remain a vast and unknowable mystery, to borrow the evocative language of the press materials. “The landscape of harsh desert, high mountains, lush golf courses and a vanishing sea, holds a rich history and maintains mythical proportions in the narrative of the American West—one that includes ancient Indian tribes, prospectors, pioneers, and cowboys,” explained Susan Davis, Desert X founder and board president. “We see Desert X as unique in shining a spotlight on the rich preexisting architectural, natural and cultural legacies of the area, while offering the public a way to explore, activate and interrogate current, timely and historic issues through contemporary, creative practices.” However, Desert X’s board is well connected to the regional, national, and international arts organizations, including major arts institutions, such as Whitney Museum of American Art, the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, the New Museum, the Hammer Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, and Creative Time. The truth is out there: Wakefield will share his vision and plans for the inaugural exhibition on January 29, 2016 as part of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2016.
Another weekend, another Modernism Week. One of our favorites: a look inside the Palm Springs Art Museum's future Architecture and Design Center, located inside E. Stewart Williams' sleek Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan (1960). The International Style building is being renovated by Marmol Radziner, who also worked on Richard Neutra's nearby Kaufmann House. The museum has already raised more than $4 million to buy and renovate the building, and is now just $1 million shy of what's needed to get work underway. The organizers hope to break ground in the next few months and open the center by fall 2014. But for now, its interior is still lots of quirky fun, including a chance to walk inside the old bank vaults, check out the old drive through teller, and explore the old kitchens and mechanical systems.
The Palm Springs Art Museum can't get enough of E. Stewart Williams. Having closed on a deal to buy the Williams' Sante Fe Federal Savings and Loan building on Palm Canyon Drive, the museum now owns two. The museum's building was also designed by Williams and completed in 1976. The iron rock facade, blends so well into the landscape it appears to be a gateway to the mountains beyond. With its concrete coffered entryway, the museum building contains obvious Brutalist references, whereas the bank building completed in 1960 takes its cues from the International style. Fine buildings both, but it must be said that with a giant white elephant of a vacated mall sitting in front of the museum building, having a presence on Palm Canyon won't hurt. Museum spokesperson Bob Bogard said the new locale would be the ideal hub for Modernism Week activities and help direct traffic to the museum. "We’ve had our eye on that building for quite a while, it’s a gem of mid-century," said Bogard. He added that the museum plans to use the first floor for for exhibitions, programming, and retail. The basement lower level will be used for archives and storage. Marmol+Radziner Architects has offered to do the renovations pro bono. The museum purchased the building from Wessman Development for $2.1 milliont. The developer was using the building as its headquarters. Speaking of Wessman Development, it turns out the new shopping center plan set to replace the white elephant in front the museum will no longer include demolishing the Town and Country Center--at least for now. The mid-century gem designed by A. Quincy Jones and Paul R. Williams was spared in a last minute stay of execution when the developer decided that public support for the overall mall project was far more important than being sidetracked with the preservation issue.
We are just back from three sunny, margarita-and-architecture-filled days in Palm Springs. This small desert city was barely a mirage until the arrival of Liberace, Frank Sinatra (you can rent his house for $1,900 a night), and air-conditioning helped make it a popular resort in the 1950s. But the clear warm desert air (and wealthy patrons) seemed to lend itself to visionary modern architecture. And so its residential side streets were soon dotted with luxurious domestic masterpieces by Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner, E. Stewart Williams, and others. This influence—or perhaps it was just the spirit of the 1950s and ’60s—made modernism the predominant house style (I want one) for the city at least until Taco Bell replicas supplanted it in the 1980s. But now midcentury modernism has made a furious comeback, at least as a symbol (or cult?) of the city, and it is celebrated every year at Palm Springs Modernism Week. The fifth annual gathering just ended, and it was a huge success, according to Jacques Caussin, chair of the event, who says that in Palm Springs, “The appetite for anything modern, whether architecture or design, is insatiable.” In addition to tours of midcentury masterpieces, the week featured a gathering of vintage Airstream trailers (I want one of these too), and the Palm Springs Art Museum opened Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner, an exhibition on the California architect’s career that previously wowed critics at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Curated by Frank Escher, the administrator of the Lautner Archives, and Nicholas Ohlsberg, the show is a revelation. Beautifully installed with eye-level drawings on wooden plinths, the exhibit also includes large models meant to allow heads to enter; you peer out to see videotapes of the houses’ actual views. The exhibit (and its excellent accompanying Rizzoli catalogue) begins with Lautner’s early Wisconsin Log Cabin, and moves on to his internship with Frank Lloyd Wright and earliest experimental houses, persuasively making a case for the architect’s unique brilliance as a residential and commercial designer. The exhibit is on view through May 23.
Famed California modernist William Krisel is getting his day in the sun tomorrow. A documentary about his life and career, called William Krisel, Architect, is premiering as part of Palm Springs Modernism week at the Camelot Theater. The 86 minute film, directed by Jake Gorst, tracks, as the above preview suggests, a 60-year career in which Krisel built over 40,000 housing units and countless other buildings. And read our next issue for a Q+A with the designer, in which he talks about his latest ventures, his career, and his very favorite topic: the ailing state of the architecture profession.
The Architect’s Newspaper is heading to the desert for the annual Palm Springs Modernism Week. This small city of 45,000 residents was, like other wealthy post-World War II communities including Sarasota, Florida, and New Canaan, Connecticut, fertile ground for modernist architectural experimentation. Palm Springs has perhaps the largest per-capita number of what are now called “midcentury” modern houses, shops, and public facilities, as well as landmarks by Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner, and others. These will all be on display during Modernism Week from February 12 to 21, as well as house tours, a John Lautner exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum, and an encampment of Airstream trailers. The silver aluminum mobile homes will be huddled around the Ace Hotel and Swim Club—itself a renovated 1965 Howard Johnson’s hotel. It should be a great week!