What is Desert Modernism? A Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture

Architects working in southern California and the American Southwest adapted ideas from the European Bauhaus Movement to the warm climate and arid terrain.
Desert Modernism was a mid-twentieth century approach to modernism that capitalized on the sunny skies and warm climate of California, and the American Southwestern "sun belt". With expansive glass and streamlined styling, Desert Modernism was a regional approach to International Style architecture. Rocks, trees, and other landscape features were often incorporated into the design.
Some defining characteristics of Desert Modernism:
  • Design minimalism

  • Expansive glass walls and windows

  • Dramatic rooflines

  • Wide overhangs

  • Steel and plastic combined with wood and stone

  • Open floor plans

  • Outdoor living spaces incorporated into the overall design

Architects Associated with Desert Modernism:
  • William F. Cody

  • Albert Frey

  • A. Quincy Jones

  • John Lautner

  • Cliff May

  • Richard Neutra

  • Dan Palmer & William Krisel

  • Donald Wexler

  • E. Stewart Williams

See Examples of Desert Modernism:
Examples of Desert Modernism may be found throughout southern California and parts of the southwest U.S., but the largest and best-preserved examples of the style are concentrated in Palm Springs, California. Landmark buildings include:
  • Kaufmann House (shown above) in Palm Springs, California. 1946. Richard Neutra, architect.

  • Grace Lewis Miller House in Palm Springs, California. 1937. Richard Neutra, architect.

  • Edris House in Palm Springs, California. 1954. E. Stewart Williams, architect.

  • Frey II House in Palm Springs, California. 1963. Albert Frey, architect.

  • Bob and Dolores Hope House in Palm Springs, California. 1979. John Lautner, architect.

  • Loewy House in Palm Springs California. 1946. Albert Frey, architect.

  • Arthur Elrod House in Palm Springs, California. 1968. John Lautner, architect.

  • Tramway Upper Station in Palm Springs, California. 1963. E. Stewart Williams, architect.

  • Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum). 1976. E. Stewart Williams, architect.

  • Also important were the Alexander houses, sophisticated mass-production homes built by the Alexander Construction Company - and typically designed by William Krisel, for Palmer & Krisel, Architects - in several tracts around Palm Springs, California.

Related Terms:

  • The Moderne, or Streamline Moderne, House Style

  • Bauhaus Architecture

  • The International Style

  • Mid-Century Modernism

  • John Porter Clark

  • William F. Cody

  • Albert Frey

  • William Krisel

  • John Lautner

  • Richard Neutra

  • Donald Wexler

  • E. Stewart Williams


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