Moshe Safdie, the global architect behind iconic projects such as the Habitat 67 prefabricated housing complex in Montreal and many others, will be giving a keynote presentation at the 2019 Modernism Week symposium in Palm Springs, California. Safdie’s over-50-year-long career began at the age of 26 when he was commissioned to build a version of a McGill University thesis project in Montreal. Built in conjunction with the city’s Expo 67 world's fair, the 146-unit garden apartment complex envisioned a way of melding suburban and urban housing typologies that catapulted the architect onto the world stage. Safdie Architects has realized over 75 buildings in the years since, including the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore that is made up of three 55-story towers topped by a massive elevated park. Safdie is also responsible for Sky Habitat Singapore, a dramatic 590-unit condominium complex organized as a pair of stepped and interlinked towers studded with projecting balconies. Safdie’s office is set to complete three key projects this year, including the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, the Altair Residences in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the massive mixed-use project Raffles City Chongqing in Chongqing, China. For the latter project, the architect has designed a series of six tapered towers that rise up to 1,450 feet in height and are connected by a 1/4-mile-long conservatory raised more than 800 feet off the ground. Safdie’s keynote lecture in Palm Springs is scheduled for February 16 at the Annenberg Theater in the Palm Springs Art Museum. For more information on the lecture, see the event page here.
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The historic Miles C. Bates house in Palm Desert, California was purchased at auction over the weekend by Los Angeles-based Stayner Architects. The city-owned home had been put on the market earlier this year with the hopes that a buyer interested in preserving and restoring the iconic midcentury structure designed by experimental architect Walter S. White would emerge. To sweeten the deal, Palm Desert officials offered up to $50,000 toward the cost of restoring the abandoned home if the right buyer was found. At a public auction held in conjunction with Palm Springs Modernism Week Saturday afternoon, city officials finally found that buyer, as the sun-scorched town played host to a dramatic back-and-forth over the home. Ultimately, the father-and-son team at Stayner prevailed over four other bidders for the iconic structure. Bidding on the home started at $50,000 and quickly rose from there in $50,000 intervals until reaching the final sale price of $360,000. The Desert Sun reports that because the property is city-owned, sale on the home must be completed by June 30. After a city agency approves the deal, the Palm Desert oversight board and the California Department of Finance will issue final approvals for the transaction. Once that happens, the Department of Finance has five days to notify the city that the sale has been approved, after which the property can officially change hands. A timeline for the renovation has not been released. Christian Stayner, principal at Stayner Architects, said via email, “We are planning to work with the City of Palm Desert to make the restored residence—plus a new accessory structure that we will design and build—available to the public for overnight visits as well as for special events and educational purposes.” Merilee Colton with the Palm Desert Historical Society said, “We are gratified that the process yielded a qualified buyer interested in preserving the Bates house. Our goal for the house has always been preservation, and many of us hope that the house will become a public space, at least intermittently, so the public can visit this remarkable structure.” White—who was an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and a disciple of Richard Neutra and Albert Frey, among others—designed the house in 1955 as a winter residence for local playboy Miles C. Bates, an artist. The distinctive midcentury home is the product of Bates’s inventive ethos and features a dynamic wave-shaped roof—the home is locally known as the “blue wave house”—that is made from a patented nail-laminated wooden dowel and lumber assembly. The home, with its dramatic roof and a set of garden walls that stretch out into the site, was designed to embrace the craggily, cactus-studded landscape of the area and offers clerestory views toward the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Today, the structure sits behind a retirement home on a dusty street, its true glory obscured by a series of later additions and a thick coat of beige paint. The House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in early 2018. It now falls to Stayner and his team to rehabilitate the home back to its original configuration and luster as a one-bedroom bachelor pad. Describing what drew him to the Bates house, Stayner said, “The house is a really interesting experiment in terms of its construction and we see it as an important moment in the evolution of the roof as a trope of desert architecture.”
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
A California city is offering $50,000 to buyers willing to restore a stunning midcentury modern home by an eminent local architect. City officials in Palm Desert, California are auctioning off a 1,900-square-foot, city-owned house designed by Walter S. White, an architect who built more than 50 experimental homes in the Coachella Valley area from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. The open floor plan structure is distinguished by a parabolic roof that sails over the concrete block and glass walls and White's trademark cantilevered corner windows. That roof was designed to be in conversation with the backdrop of mountains that rise behind the house, and was a design patented by White. Among many notable features, the home sports a bathroom with a glass shower that opens into a private garden. Despite an impressive pedigree and design, the home, officially known as the Miles C. Bates House, is in profound disrepair, and additions from the 1970s (as seen in the photo at top) compromised the character of the original home. Although the city is obligated to transfer the deed to the highest bidder at auction, preservation-minded officials are hoping the $50,000 grant to restore the home will entice a likeminded buyer. (According to The Mercury News, the 50K offer is a no-go if the buyer substantially alters or demolishes the home.) Unlike other midcentury stunners in Palm Desert and neighboring Palm Springs, this one is relatively affordable. A city appraisal shows the property's market value is between $320,000 to $340,000. The house was completed in 1955 for artist Miles C. Bates. Starting today, the city is offering interested buyers private tours of the home, but during next month's Modernism Week, the annual celebration of modern architecture in and around Palm Springs, the property will be open to all for tours. For those looking to bid on the home, the fateful auction is scheduled for February 24, a day before Modernism Week wraps up.
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, as The Architect's Newspaper (AN) has reported, was left adrift in New York (its birth home) and then sent packing last week in a big rig to Palm Springs, California. The Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey-designed house arrived safe and sound and was welcomed to Palm Springs in an official ceremony with dignitaries at the Albert Frey-designed Tramway Gas Station. While it’s sad to see the house leave New York, it does make sense for the all-metal structure to ‘retire’ to the sunny dry desert. Architects Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani worked for years to save the Aluminaire from destruction and oblivion, but when it became obvious that New York no longer wanted the structure and Palm Springs did, they decided to ship it to Frey’s long-time home on the desert. The container holding the house will be parked on south Palm Canyon Drive throughout Modernism Week (which runs February 16 to 26). After Modernism Week concludes, the container will be stored in the Palm Springs City Yard. It is meant to be included in the plans for the new Downtown Park. Once the park is completed (date to be decided) and the site for Aluminaire prepared, the home will be reassembled and opened for the public to tour.
Modernism Week in Palm Springs will feature new art installations and a Palm Canyon Drive “star” for John Lautner
Palm Springs Modernism Week began in 2006 as a small, local celebration of the desert city’s abundant modern architecture. It has grown in ambition and popularity every year and today many of its most popular tours sell out days after they are announced. It has become the model for other modernism programs around the country but still stands out for its expansive program of house and city tours, focused exhibitions in local museums, and design trade show. In addition, this year will witness the launch of Desert X, a series of art installations scattered around the Coachella Valley just outside Palm Springs. Finally, this is a city that honors architects with Hollywood Boulevard-like brass stars that feature notable names set into the sidewalks of the main street, Palm Canyon Drive. They have ‘stars’ for Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams (who designed the city’s architecture museum), William Krisel, and photographer Julius Shulman. This year they will place a star for John Lautner who designed the spectacular Elrod House in the city and a hotel now called The Lautner in Desert Hot Springs. We will be reporting all week from the desert where it supposed to be raining and cold (60 degrees). Palm Springs Modernism weeks runs from February 16 to 26; learn more here.
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.
The Aluminaire House, designed by A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey, will depart from storage in Long Island, NY on February 9th and travel across the country to Palm Springs, CA for Modernism Week, the annual celebration of midcentury architecture and design in Palm Springs. Originally built as a prototype for the 1931 Allied Arts and Industries and Architectural League of New York Exhibition, the house was an early modernist exemplar for the use of off-the-shelf building materials in residential architecture. After the exhibition closed, the structure was relocated from Midtown Manhattan to the estate of architect Wallace Harrison where it remained until the late 1980s. Passing through the stewardship of several owners who altered and expanded the house, it eventually fell into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. As a result of preservation efforts by historians and architects, the structure was moved in 1987 for the fourth, and purportedly final, time to the Central Islip Campus of the New York Institute of Technology where it was fully restored. However, its life on Long Island was relatively short lived. In 2012 the campus closed and the house was again disassembled and move into storage, out of the public’s view. Following negotiations with the City of Palm Springs, the Aluminaire House Foundation, led by Michael Schwarting, Kenneth Frampton, and Frances Campani, secured a permanent site for the house in a new downtown park which is slated for completion later this year. As such, the reassembled house will not be on display during Modernism Week, however it will be the subject of a lecture on February 25 and fundraising event later that day at the Siva House designed by Hugh Kaptur. When the house is finally reconstructed, a permanent board of directors will take over its care and offer regular hours for public viewing. For more on Modernism Week, see its website here.
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.
New York City is losing the 1931 Aluminaire House and its relocating to Palm Spring, California. The aluminum alloy and steel structure was created by the architect Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher, managing editor of Architecture Record, and was commissioned by the Architecture League for the Allied Arts and Industry exhibition. In many ways the metal structure is pure New York, a temporary installation first built in the Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th streets (replaced in 1967 by a 47-floor skyscraper called 245 Park Avenue). The house has been unloved by the city since it was taken down. It stood for some years at the Islip campus of the New York Institute of Technology and a proposal to site in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens was sadly rejected by local residents and since that time has been stored in boxes. Aluminaire Foundation officials think it will need about $600,000 to bring it to Palm Springs and have it erected on a local site. A first effort at fundraising netted $150,00 and now, this weekend, as part of the city's Modernism Week, a second event will be staged at the Frey- (and Robson C. Chambers) designed Tramway Gas Station to raise funds for the foundation. Regardless of New York's apparent lack of desire to keep the structure, it makes some sense to bring it to the dry desert; the city loves modern architecture and Frey lived in the desert city for most of his life. New York, say goodbye to the Aluminaire!
Architects may not get much respect in most American cities, but in Palm Spring, California they're stars! Today Richard Neutra who designed the city's famous Miller House in 1937 and, ten years later, the Kaufmann House will have a star dedicated in his honor on the sidewalk of Palm Canyon Drive just in front of the Palm Springs Architecture Museum. The Austrian emigre will join other architects on the sidewalk including: Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams (who designed the city's architecture museum), William Krisel, and just next to the star of his friend the photographer Julius Shulman. All of these figures were important contributors to the significant architecture culture of this desert city and here they are not only honored but revered.