Not long after Brooke Hodge took up her new post, Palm Springs Life caught up with her at the Architecture + Design Center on North Palm Canyon Drive. Her formidable resume includes leadership positions at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and arts programs at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
Q: Your job in New York was mostly administrative; was the opportunity here to work closely with architects, designers, and artists the attraction?
A: It was also [Palm Springs Art Museum] Director Liz Armstrong’s great reputation. She’s a real collaborator and brings new energy. This new position expands beyond curating to become the “design person” across all platforms and locations, whether it’s exhibition graphics or what things look like physically in the museum. We think of it as one museum with various locations. As part of the senior leadership team, I have a voice in the overall cultural landscape of the museum.
Q: Would you ever have expected to be here now?
A: It’s right in line with my career path. I lived in L.A. for 13 years and would come out for the annual symposium when it was still the Palm Springs Desert Museum. When the job came up, I didn’t think twice about moving. I love that Palm Springs has a passionate community already devoted to architecture and design. I feel like I can push it further and do things that are more radical or out of the box without being overly scrutinized.
Q: Your favorite local structure is …
A: City Hall by Albert Frey is pretty beautiful. And the Frey House is great. There’s so much good work here. I always loved the original tram station. I really like [Richard] Neutra also.
Q: What’s happening with the Frey House?
A: We do tours and ongoing maintenance. We have to respect that it’s an historic structure and it’s not that big. But I think we could use it more. When we have brainstorming sessions or meetings with scholars about exhibitions, we should do it up there. Or we could have dinners there. It’s like a retreat, but it’s right here.
Q: Your own Sunnylands?
A: Exactly. I got to stay there for three nights when I was looking for a place to live and experience it at all times of day. To wake up there is amazing. In the evening, you see all the stars and the whole city laid out.
Q: How do we preserve and integrate new architecture while keeping our village feeling?
A: My master’s degree is in architectural history with a focus on historic preservation. I’ve always been interested in preserving the history of a place but not cocooning it. Adaptive reuse is really important. Part of Palm Springs’ charm is that it still feels like a small town. But there is definitely room for good new architecture. Not everything has to be sand colored or desert palette. It’s nice for things to have individual character. It would be great to see more color.
Q: What’s your favorite achievement?
A: The exhibition on intersections between fashion and architecture, 1980 to the present. [“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” a traveling exhibition]. It was 10 years ago but a lot of people still mention it to me. Somebody from the Metropolitan Museum just posted a spread from the book on Instagram. I think as a curator you have to have faith in your instincts.
Q: How does the A+D’s relatively short past compare to the future you envision?
A: Sidney Williams was instrumental in acquiring the A+D Center building, laying the foundations for the collection and level of exhibitions, and making architecture a focus within the museum’s programming. I see doing exhibitions that bring in graphic design, production design, and fashion. I want to respond to the community, not just have the community respond to things here.
Q: What about emerging female architects?
A: I think it’s important to show the work of women architects, but to show them as architects not just as women. Kazuyo Sejima comes to mind. Her firm designed the New Museum in New York and the glass pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art. She makes this ethereal work that’s just beautiful. Sharon Johnston has a firm in L.A. with her husband called Johnston Marklee. Barbara Bestor is another Los Angeles architect I really admire, and she is doing a project here now. Jeanne Gang was a student at Harvard when I worked there. She did a skyscraper in Chicago, the Aqua Tower, in 2011, which is quite an accomplishment for a young architect. It’s still a man’s world with most of the developers being men. But to do a skyscraper or, like the late Zaha Hadid, who designed the BMW Central Building in Germany, among so many other significant buildings, I think that situation is changing now.
Q: What’s your dream exhibition?
A: I’ve never done a full-scale show on [Dutch architect] Rem Koolhaas. I would also love to do a prequel to the fashion and architecture show that would look at historic examples with designers like Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, the original Balenciaga, and architects like Le Corbusier. For an architecture exhibit, what if we showed no models and no architectural drawings? What if we did everything through film or video to create a spatial installation? You would have something at full scale so people feel like they are almost inhabiting it, but it’s still also a representation. That’s a dream I want to do.