Featured Architect: James Cioffi
Palm Springs architect Jim Cioffi came to the desert in 1957 and uses some of the same words to describe the structures he saw being built around that time.
“I was always drawn to the modernist movement,” he says. “It’s pure. It’s honest. It’s lightness. It’s transparent.”
“One of the most important things that I see when I look at modernist work is its scale,” Cioffi says. “It tends to be less heavy, less tall, less overbearing than the way work started to develop in the ’70s. It had this human scale to it that’s easier for people to relate to. I think we got a little away from that in post-modern design in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Lance O'Donell, Chris Sahlin, Cioffi, and several other desert architects working today stand on the shoulders of those who created the iconic structures that continue to attract architecture aficionados worldwide.
Of the revered masters of modernism that worked in Coachella Valley during the midcentury period, who does Cioffi personally admire the most?
“William F. Cody has yet to really be discovered, I think, by local architectural historians. … His body of work here is not as extensive as E. Stewart Williams’ or Donald Wexler’s; and yet, in my opinion, he was the best of the lot. There was a reason they called him “’Wild Bill,’ because he knew no boundaries. Unfortunately, one of the best of his designs is gone: Huddle Springs [restaurant, and the attached Cameron Shopping Center]. … His work really was quintessentially modern; and it wasn’t cookie-cutter, stereotypical modern. He was always exploring.”
Current demands mean today’s architects have to turn inspiration into reality by updating the way yesterday’s architects worked.
“There were less restrictions on materials and methods,” Cioffi points out, referring to energy and earthquake codes that have taken effect since the middle of the 20th century.
Speaking about his recent Palm Springs residential projects (Sophia, Murano, Pinnacle, Alexander Estates, and Las Palmas Heights, to name but a few), Cioffi said, "The angled metal roofs, the 'butterflies", the scored block and the sandstone are all elements of this Palm Springs Modern look. It's sun-control, texture, and human scale, are all approprieate for the way we live today."