Architect Donald Wexler and his steel-framed houses in Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID A. LEE
They harnessed the climate and seized the views.
Today’s modern architects build upon an iconic foundation, perfected in a place that needed it most.
In the post-WW II era, Greater Palm Springs attracted a faction of non-conventional architects. Each in his own style, they studied the desert with the eye of an artist, the mind of a scientist, and the heart of an engineer. What they gifted us serves as both template and predecessor to important new work. Transplant architects like Donald Wexler and William Cody designed on site in studies of light, heat, shadows, and shade – and our current architects like Lance O’Donnell, Ana Escalante, and Sean Lockyer sill do. Experimentation, new materials, and evolving techniques for efficiency have kept generations cool in extreme summers and warm in desert winters. Smart, expressive design has kept them living the good life through walls of glass and indoor-outdoor living.
He raised the bar for going big. San Jacinto big.
It took a village, but Francis Crocker put tram cars on a desert mountainside, letting riders emerge in a national forest.
He wasn’t the first of the innovators to reinvent the leisure options of Greater Palm Springs. But electrical engineer Francis Crocker was the first to find a way to reach the cool peaks of Mount San Jacinto, a dream he formed in the early 1930s. Despite three decades of opposition and delays, Crocker and his supporters prevailed.
He did the design world a favor by refusing to choose one talent.
Raymond Loewy’s creative genius materialized in practical application as a consultant to more than 200 companies.
Designer of streamlined cars, railcars, Air Force One, a Greyhound bus, and the Concorde interior. Logo mastermind (think: Lucky Strike and Shell). Chef, fashion illustrator, and adviser to NASA. Only one man knows what it was like to walk about in Raymond Loewy’s (no doubt stylish) shoes, glimpsing his work in the world around him. Every facet of daily life presented room for improvement. He noted: “Good design keeps the user happy, the manufacturer in the black, and the aesthete unoffended.” Even in homes where he’s not a household name, his red Nabisco triangle winks from a box of Nilla Wafers and his sensuously ergonomic bottles of Coca-Cola stand in the fridge. (He designed refrigerators, too.) When he commissioned Albert Frey as the architect for his residence in 1946, they co-designed a glass home with a pool curling into the living room. It was also in Palm Springs that Loewy and his team designed the Studebaker Avanti in 1961. These days, local Avanti enthusiasts park and brunch together. Lectures on Loewy’s legacy and tours of his former home sell out during Modernism Week.
She turned the topography into a free art exhibition.
Desert X enlists artists from around the globe to respond to the Coachella Valley and its populations.
With an events calendar hosting the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, Modernism Week and the International Film Festival, Fashion Week and Food & Wine, many thought we lacked for nothing. In 2017, Susan Davis proved them wrong. The physical environment combined with a fervent interest in the arts provided an ideal destination for the founder’s first Desert X, an exhibition of site-specific art installations across the Coachella Valley. Artists convey points of view both historical and in context. Over 650,000 visits were made to the sites in 2021, the third edition of the biennial phenomenon.
“The complex allure of deserts has stirred artists, thinkers, writers, and culture makers across histories and geographies,” read 2021’s program. “We encouraged our collaborating artists to remain deeply aware of the present but also show us ways into a tomorrow,” a suggestion indicative of innovation on the whole.