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Thursday, February 27. 2014
Mid-Century Modern Architecture in the Desert
Recently, while Bird Dog was lounging in the Caribbean, I was sent to do a presentation at a conference in Palm Desert, California. Since I was a featured speaker, the conference was paying for my hotel, and as these things are typically boondoggles held at high-end resorts, I asked my wife to join me and she reluctantly agreed. It took a tremendous amount of arm-twisting, two lines of text at a minimum.
My presentation meant a day in a ballroom with 200 of my closest industry competitors. It provided a great opportunity to discuss issues at the heart of my business and I managed to deliver a 30 minute presentation in what seemed like 5 minutes. I'm still learning to present well, though I was pleased to hear my work referenced several times by the speakers who followed me.
Once I got past the fun part, it was 'boondoggle on' and the wife and I availed ourselves of the surrounding region. We took a bike tour of Palm Springs, headed out to Joshua Tree National Park and did an hour's hike up Ryan Mountain for some spectacular views. I highly recommend a visit to Joshua Tree, if you're ever in the area. It has a beauty which is very hard to describe. It may not be for everyone. I found it fascinating. I also wanted to visit the Salton Sea, but time didn't permit.
As we were preparing to leave, my wife noticed an article about Mid-Century Modern architecture in a local magazine. What caught her eye was a house owned by the Kaufmanns, a family I recently wrote about. Apparently, this family was rather innovative in their tastes. Successful in the business of retailing, they expanded the American cultural landscape by contracting with ground-breaking architects, in this case Richard Neutra. Success really does breed success. Their home in Palm Springs is considered the premiere example of the Mid-Century Modern home.
Generally speaking, Palm Springs/Desert is a beautiful location. Mount San Jacinto towers over a region in which stunning vistas are commonplace. This is a transformed land and two things give this fact away.
First, the dirt piles that pass for mountains and hills. As you ride along the outskirts of town, one side of the ride is beautiful, manicured and desirable. Compare this to the other side, which can best be described as slag heaps. While these are naturally occurring hills and mountains, it's as if someone mined the region and just threw everything in piles on the outskirts of town. This is a desert, after all, and the contrast between the natural landscape and the landscaping of homes is striking.
A view from Mt Ryan and a view in the Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park
Secondly, the windmills and solar panels, which supply the energy. So much wind is created due to temperature differentials in the Los Angeles region that wind is forced through the Banning Pass almost constantly. As it's a desert and sunny almost 280 days a year, the solar panels which are peppered among the windmills add to the energy production.
This is a region which exhibits its raw beauty at Joshua Tree and the mountains, and its manufactured beauty in the homes and resorts.
We are not fans of Mid-Century Modern, though as my wife says, if you're going to live here, you may as well go all in and make it work for you. Mid-Century Modern fits here. It makes sense in an odd, but beautiful, way. There are very few houses you could pick up and move to other locations and feel like you'd made the right move. This is architecture which suits this desert.
An example of 'Butterfly Design', which has an inverted peak, rather than a standard peaked, or flat, roof.
This is the Edris House, designed by E. Steward Williams.
The 'Swiss Miss' house, an A-Frame by Charles Dubois and built by Alexander Construction.
Another view of Neutra's Kaufmann House.
Posted by Bulldog in Our Essays, The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 17:22 | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)
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Interesting trip. Sounds like your presentation was effective.
Except for the Edris house, if you just took all the people and their junk out of the desert it would be glorious country!
Re that era's architecture, it mostly looks like commercial warehouses to me.
I kind've like the Butterfly design, too. Kaufmann's may be a prototypical example, but in general I didn't like it or the others much. They do fit out there, though. It helps to walk the streets and add context.
In 1959/60 a handsome young man drove me out to Joshua Tree for a day long date. He had heard there was an engineer out there who heated/cooled his entire house from a coffee table. Because of who this young man's employer was we had an introduction and were invited in to see this house. It was completely isolated in a flat area. It looked something like the Edris house. But, this house was very unique the man who owned it had been an engineer with either Lockheed or Douglas. He had designed the house such that tubes gathered sun rays and somehow (the energy was transferred to a glass covered coffee table. Inset under the glass were a lot of tubes, etc. Sorry, I don't remember more, but I was really a lot more interested in my young man. I have often wondered if that house is still out there somewhere. We were caught in a flash flood on the way home--very, very lucky the young man was driving a 58 Vette ;-) sure was exciting !! Good thing we saw the water coming down from the side in time to out run it! And, just think we did it all without helmets, or seat belts! Kids !
"Son of God" Official Trailer:
It took a tremendous amount of arm-twisting, two lines of text at a minimum.
Good dry Yankee humor. I guess dry humor is the way to go if you are in the desert.
If I were going to build a house in the desert, I would have most of it underground.
Joshua Tree is an amazing place to visit and spend time in. In fact the entire Coachella Valley is worth spending time in.
There's a great 4WD road from the southern end of the park that ultimately dumps out on a local road just outside of Indio off the I-10. A little knarly in places but worth the time if you have the rig and the intestinal fortitude.
You didn't miss much by not getting to the Salton Sea. It's probably one of the creepiest places I've visited. There's supposedly a state park here, but I never saw it. All that seemed to exist were rusting and abandoned detritus along the shoreline of a body of water which appeared downright toxic. Maybe I missed something.
If you go back I would encourage you to skip across the way and take some time to explore the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs.
We came in through the south, but it was a regular entrance. We didn't have a 4WD, so any other options were out. I think coming in through the south is preferable, you see much more and get to see the changes in the park landscape as you head northward. Fascinating stuff.
I just wanted to see the Salton Sea because its existence is a mistake. The creepiness of the place, which I picked up on in a few pictures, appealed to my sense of the bizarre.
What's amazing about Coachella is, as I mentioned, simply the fact it shouldn't be what it is. Orchards, farms, etc. The water management has created something which really just shouldn't be there. I don't say that as an indictment, just an observation. It's amazing what man can do to improve on what nature provides.
I was sorry I missed Coachella (the concert) 2013. Some of my favorite bands played there this year. It's not really for people my age, I know, but when I saw New Order was playing I contacted a friend in LA to see if he wanted to go. Even though he's 2 years younger than me, he said he was too old. I need to get younger friends, I think.