Few times have I been nostalgic leaving a city. I’m usually excited to get home and let my experiences sink in, while getting back into my routine. When I think of my week in Palm Springs my heart sighs as cheesy as that sounds. It was so tempting to stay out in California for at least another week but I figure there will be future opportunities to return. I said “see you soon” to the city that hosted me, a city that gave me a brief introduction to its history, the people that lived it and the architecture that makes Palm Springs one of the most design-interesting cities I’ve visited so far.
My entire experience of Palm Springs felt very voyeuristic. From the moment I began driving around the city in my rental I was enchanted by the magnificent mountains, the desert colors and the city’s residential neighborhoods. My trip was about design, architecture and exploring different domestic spaces. These buildings were constructed with inspiration from nature, with ideologies and sometimes financial restraints. I walked through private homes and historically preserved buildings. I carefully stepped on carpets and cautiously turned corners, I took mental pictures of kitchen layouts and of custom made furniture pieces when photography wasn’t allowed.
Last year I learned about Modernism Week as it was occurring in its 9th year. Not fully understanding the complexity of architecture’s role in the city, nor the importance of the desert to it’s architecture, I put the event on my radar in hopes that the opportunity would came up for a trip out to California.
Julius Shulman’s architectural photography shows you architecture as an art form. Like a giant sculpture projecting shadows, creating spaces, protecting and living, architecture is art you live in. Shulman’s work was extremely influential in my visit to Palm Springs. The architects that worked in the city of Palm Springs and Palm Desert had a dialogue everyday with their surroundings and their artwork reflects this conversation.
In it’s 10th year, Palm Springs Modernism Week, is today the most important event in Palm Springs and growing into the Palm Desert area. Modernism is celebrated in all its forms: educational tours, open houses, lectures, book signings, film screenings, design exhibitions and of course, parties. The popularity that Modernism has today is only thanks to those who have realized the importance in preserving an architectural era that is slowly disappearing due to economical and political reasons. Perhaps also thanks to the hit television series Mad Men but that's just a side note.
So how do you navigate 10 days of over 100 events? Well, I can hardly say I dominated it but I think I did pretty well for a newbie. I wasn’t able to attend all 10 days so I picked the last weekend of events and was in town Wednesday- Tuesday. Events can be searched on modernismweek.com by date, type and by venue. For a few events I purchased tickets online before making the trip, I played the rest by ear. Several events such as the Palm Springs architectural bus tour and the Frey House II tours were already sold out by the time I was planning my trip. However, once I arrived to Palm Springs, I spoke to event coordinators about these events and they encouraged me to show up in case there were any last minute cancellations. Sure enough, the opportunity came up for both events. Good things do happen to those who wait. The Frey House II was one of the highlights of my trip.
My scheduling didn’t work out as I intended when my architectural bus tour of Palm Desert ran an hour over scheduled time and I ended up making it to the final 15 minutes of a lecture with Jack Lenor Larson & Jim Bassler on weaving. A few years back, research on Pierre Paulin lead me to learning about Lenor Larson’s psychedelic textiles from the 70s so I was really looking forward to hearing him talk. The few minutes I was able to catch on his final thoughts on weaving were motivating: “Do what you love, no matter what”.
A lecture with the architecture historian Barbara Lamprecht on Richard Neutra’s work in the desert merely scratched the surface of the body of work compiled in her book: Neutra, Complete Works. Lamprecht is a scholar on Neutra and she centered her lecture on the Kauffmann House as a focal point, the theory and history behind Neutra’s work in the desert. She pointed out not only the historic facts on the house but also the challenges in it’s restoration. The Kauffmann House was altered by several previous owners but thanks to the photographic archives of Julius Shulman and research work by Barbara Lamprecht the house was able to be restored to its original state.
Many of the architects featured during the tours are mentioned again and again as the architects that built Palm Springs. If I wasn’t familiar with them through the photographic work of Julius Shulman, I heard about them so often that by the end of the week I couldn’t forget the name. It was interesting to learn that in part, it is because of the photography of Julius Shulman that many of these architects are well known and their buildings still stand. Others did not have the privilege of having their work documented in this manner. Still little is known of Walter S. White, an architect who worked in Palm Desert and created beautiful low income housing and experimented with different roof shapes. Volker M. Welter, Professor at the Department of History of Art & Architecture, UCSB gave a lecture on White’s work making note on how little attention White has been given in the Modernist era of Palm Springs. His lecture felt like an initial dialogue to be continued as more research on White’s archives is necessary and a book on White’s work is forthcoming. I look forward to reading that.
Although this post was long over due, it feels as if I am still hung up on these designers and architects and I haven’t quite moved forward from the experience of traveling to Palm Springs. It is the problem with history isn’t it. More often then not you realize you are just scratching the surface. I think what intrigues me the most is how an era was defined by design, yet how contemporary some of these designs feel. The importance of preservation was key throughout the trip. I’m sure I’ll continue to mention the value of this trip to Palm Springs throughout other posts, it was a lot to process. For more images check out my Instagram account @the_empty_apartment and email me with any questions. Thanks for the read!
If you enjoyed this post read about my second visit to Palm Springs for Modernism Week in P.S. I love you More