All About the "Starchitects"
While numerous architects and builders contributed to the aesthetic of Greater Palm Springs, there are a handful of key players that set the bar for modern architecture.
Palm Springs Architects
For fans of modernism or just those curious about the unique and beautiful architecture of Palm Springs, learning more about the buildings, homes and those who created them can help create a deeper understanding. While numerous architects and builders contributed to the aesthetic of Greater Palm Springs, there are a handful of key players that set the bar for modern architecture.
Palm Springs architect: John Lautner
John Lautner was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and is known as one of last century’s most important contemporary American architects. Lautner liked to consider the relationship of people to their environments when he designed homes and spaces.
Lautner’s early work includes a hotel in Desert Hot Springs now called Hotel Lautner which was part of a master planned community of over 100 buildings.
See Lautner homes & buildings:
Bob Hope House
Palm Springs architect: Albert Frey
Albert Frey took a trip to the desert and fell so madly in love, he never left. He had been hired to work on the now-historically-significant Kocher-Samson Building in Palm Springs, but Frey’s legacy goes much deeper. Frey was one of the early developers of the style that would become known as desert modernism; clean lines, and minimal detail and ornamentation that let the extreme desert environment shine.
See Frey homes and buildings:
Frey II House
Tramway Gas Station / Palm Springs Visitor Center
Palm Springs City hall
Palm Springs architect: Hugh Kaptur
He’s known for his unconventional designs and “popluxe” style. Hugh Kaptur counts Frank Lloyd Wright as one of his inspirations. Yet another architect who came to Palm Springs from elsewhere, and became so captivated, he settled here, Kaptur had a dramatic influence on desert modernism architecture.
He built more than 200 homes and numerous other buildings in Palm Springs.
See Kaptur homes and buildings
Steve McQueen House
Musicland Hotel (Casa Blanca)
Palm Springs Fire Station # 3 & #4
Palm Springs architect: William Krisel
William Krisel believed good design shouldn’t just be for the rich. Over his career, he developed a passion for creating high-quality homes, with smart design that ordinary people could live in and feel good about.
Krisel partnered with the Alexander Company and went on to build more than 1,200 homes across Palm Springs including in the Twin Palms neighborhood. His now-iconic butterfly roof designs turned the traditional roof shape upside down to dramatic effect, serving the mountain views up as if they were presented in a dish.
One of his more famous works includes the House of Tomorrow, which prominent developer Robert Alexander and his family lived in, throwing lavish parties for the who’s who of the Palm Springs design and architecture world. The home later became more famous when Elvis Presley and his new wife Priscilla hid out there on their honeymoon.
See Krisel homes and buildings:
Homes in Twin Palms
House of Tomorrow / Elvis Honeymoon House
Pod House / Grundt Tipper House
Palm Springs architect: E. Stewart Williams
Favoring the use of natural materials like wood and stone, E. Stewart Williams’ first major residential commission came when Rat Pack crooner Frank Sinatra found his way into Williams’ office, sat down and asked for a home by Christmas, which was just a few months away.
Williams may have been most prolific when it came to public buildings; banks, offices and civic buildings, of which he designed many in the Palm Springs area.
See E. Stewart Williams homes and buildings:
Chase bank / Coachella Valley Savings and Loan
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Alpine Station
Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs Unified School District building
Frank Sinatra’s Home, Twin Palms
Palm Springs architect: William Cody
It’s hard to pin down a particular style William F Cody (known as Wild Bill and the Desert maverick) was known for, but he believed in having all elements of a space work together; the building, the landscape, and the furniture. Architect E. Stewart Williams once said of Cody that he brought 5th Avenue into the desert for his ability to create magnificent architecture.
See Cody homes and buildings:
St. Theresa Catholic Church and Convent
Del Marcos Hotel
Eldorado Country Club (private)
Palm Springs Public Library
Palm Springs architect: Richard Neutra
Architect Richard Neutra designed just three homes in Palm Springs but each one was significant for its advancement of desert modernism architecture.
Neutra was careful about placing his homes in their environment, so he could make the outdoors and indoors seem more in harmony.
One of the most significant works is the Kaufmann House, which many experts believe is the greatest example of desert modernism still standing today. Conceived as a winter home for a department store magnate, the home is situated on a large lot, with its elements laid out in a pinwheel. But its most noticeable feature to passers-by or looky-loos (you can drive up to it, but gates and fences make only a small portion of the home visible from the street) is the second story “gloriette”, an outdoor living room with louvered walls that could protect the homeowners from desert sun and winds.
See Neutra homes and buildings:
Grace Miller House
Palm Springs architect: Donald Wexler
After serving in the Navy, Donald Wexler moved to Los Angeles and worked with Richard Neutra before partnering with William Cody, and Richard Harrison.
Low slung roofs, folded roofs, prefab components and organic style are all hallmarks of Wexler’s desert modernism style, though he hated labels, saying famously, “we didn’t even think of it as ‘Modern’ in terms of architecture for the desert. We did it to live with the environment, a matter of balancing orientation and views.” Wexler said he preferred to let his work speak for itself rather than apply labels or architectural terminology.
See Wexler homes and buildings:
Wexler Steel Homes
Dinah Shore Residence
Palm Springs International Airport
Union 76 gas Station
Interested in learning more and seeing the groundbreaking modernist architecture and modern homes in Palm Springs first hand? Want to check out butterfly roof homes, celebrity homes, architecturally important homes in Palm Springs? Architectural tours, interior home tours, and modernism tours are all available. Check out the tours available TODAY!