Highlights From Palm Springs Modernism Week 2024

William Kreisel's House of Tomorrow | Peter Thomas

By Jack Wagner

In late February, Palm Springs celebrated its 19th annual Modernism Week, uniting architecture and design experts and enthusiasts to explore and appreciate the city’s iconic architecture and innovative design history. 

The modernism movement flourished during the mid-20th century in Palm Springs, with architects such as Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, William Kreisel, and Donald Wexler playing pivotal roles in shaping the city’s facade with their groundbreaking designs. Characterized by clean lines, open spaces, and a seamless integration with natural surroundings, this concept gained heightened popularity, particularly among Hollywood celebrities who sought refuge in the desert, generating a demand for cutting-edge and stylish homes. During Modernism Week, many of these architectural marvels are open to the public for intimate guided tours, offering a rare glimpse into some of the world’s most coveted trophy properties. 

Highlights from the 11-day festival included guided tours of renowned architectural properties such as William Kreisel’s House of Tomorrow (1960), Albert Frey’s Frey House II (1964), and Donald Wexler’s Steel Houses (1962). 

House of Tomorrow, William Kreisel, 1960:

Privately owned and recently renovated with impeccable attention to detail, William Kreisel’s House of Tomorrow stands as an emblem of futuristic design. Robert Alexander, a prominent real estate developer, and his family originally commissioned the construction of the home in 1960. 

The residence’s floor plan, a true study in geometry, anchors around a large diamond, with dodecagons (12-sided polygons) positioned at each of the diamond’s four points, continuously playing with 33-degree angles. Timeless terrazzo floors, walls of angled glass, and mid-century furniture pieces are prevalent throughout the property. The outdoors honors the home’s original angular dimensions, with a perfectly centered hot tub at the far side of the home’s oversized swimming pool. While it serves as an architectural showstopper, many widely recognize the home as the 1967 honeymoon destination of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

William Kreisel's House of Tomorrow | Peter Thomas

Frey House II, Albert Frey, 1964:

Just above the Palm Springs Art Museum lies the final primary residence of renowned architect Albert Frey, dubbed Frey House II. The minimal 800-square-foot home encapsulates the true essence of desert modernism, showcasing clean lines and a harmonious integration with nature, including a natural boulder protruding into the bedroom area. 

While simplistic in shape, the home’s design is quite the opposite, drawing inspiration from the surrounding desert landscape and lifestyle. Rust-colored foundations echo the hues of the surrounding mountains, while a sage-green exterior blends seamlessly with common desert flora. Vibrant pops of yellow reflect the blossoms of sage plants, while aqua-colored corrugated steel mirrors the undulating waves of the oblong pool. Upon his death in 1998, the Swiss-born architect willed the home to the Palm Springs Art Museum, which now maintains and conducts guided tours of the iconic residence.

Frey House II

Wexler Steel Houses, Donald Wexler, 1962:

In the early 1960s, architect Donald Wexler collaborated with his partner Richard Harrison and the Alexander Construction Company to create a pioneering prefabricated residential community in Palm Springs. Focusing on steel and glass as construction materials, they developed nearly 40 homes known as the Wexler Steel Houses. These homes, with the two-bedroom prototype spanning 1,400 square feet, stand as pivotal examples of mid-century modern architecture. Wexler designed them to be stylish yet affordable, with construction times of under 30 days. Their original asking price was between $13,000 and $17,000, roughly $165,000 in today’s economy.

Each home began with a concrete foundation, into which a bathroom and kitchen unit were lowered via crane to occupy a central position. From there, the remaining living spaces, including two, three, or four bedrooms, were built around this central core. Ultimately, just seven of these homes were constructed, featuring identical light gauge metal framing, a choice of three steel roof options, and expansive glass walls facilitating seamless indoor-outdoor living. The intentional open layouts allowed buyers the flexibility to define room uses and furniture arrangements according to their preferences.

Additional Highlights:

Alongside private and showcase residences, chic area hotels further enhance the allure of this desert destination, paying homage to its modernist roots. The Ace Hotel & Swim Club welcomes guests into a quintessential motel-style complex nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. The cozy rooms exude a curated aesthetic charm, some offering private outdoor courtyards with inviting fire pits. However, that is where the minimalistic motel heritage ends, as the grounds feature an expansive pool with a hot tub, a dedicated on-site spa, and hosts weekly energetic events, complemented by a fashionable boutique, and, during Modernism Week, the Le Labo On Wheels pop-up. 

A few miles down the road, Parker Palm Springs embraces the campy and colorful characteristics of Palm Springs, offering highly stylized luxury rooms and villas amid its exclusive grounds. Upon arrival, an impressive decorative concrete wall welcomes guests, staying true to the hotel’s Palm Springs locale, while neon-orange double doors open to a world of intrigue, bright hues, and glitz. Throughout the property, numerous highly rated restaurants and a world-class spa await, while the outdoor spaces dazzle with verdant greenery, picture-perfect pools, and colorful scalloped cabanas and umbrellas.

While Modernism Week presents a multitude of amazing opportunities to immerse oneself in modern design, including gallery tours, art installations, museum exhibits, and furniture fairs, these properties stand as enduring pillars of Palm Springs’s mid-century modern legacy. With the 20th iteration of Modernism Week scheduled for February 2025, enthusiasts are encouraged to mark their calendars for an unforgettable experience.

Ace Hotel & Swim Club