Design Principal, Marmol Radziner.
Over twenty years ago, in the summer of 1993, my partner Leo Marmol and I had the fortune of restoring Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House in Palm Springs. For me, one of the most memorable moments came about a year into the restoration. We had removed all of the additions from the house, which had more than doubled in size over the nearly fifty years since it had been built. What remained, however, was the bare outline of the house as Neutra had conceived it: a skeleton of steel beams and columns, raw wood framing, and stone. It looked like the rugged and intuitive charcoal sketches Neutra drew of his houses as he designed them. I would walk slowly around the entire site”around this skeleton”and see a magnificent piece of sculpture from every angle. There was no front or back. From every angle the proportions were incredible. For me, this was the essence of desert modernist architecture.
On my frequent trips to the desert during the Kaufmann House restoration, I drove past many beautiful modern buildings but knew little or nothing about their origins. By the mid-1990s there was plenty of photography and writing on the work of the celebrated desert modernists, such as Albert Frey, John Lautner, and William Krisel. But there were many contemporary buildings that went undocumented. Today we have an incredible amount of access to information on the desert modernist masterpieces. But as Dan Chavkin imparts to us through his photographs, there is so much more in the expansive Coachella Valley that remains to be discovered: both the homes themselves and the architects who designed them. Who designed and built these modern buildings that still catch my eye on my drives through the desert? What is their story?
It is important to note that the early 1990s marked the beginning of a midcentury modern revival. The body of beautifully understated structures that bejeweled Palm Springs by the thousands in the 1940s and 1950s had fallen into disrepair and out of favor with the community. This drew preservationists to the region and began a new golden age of sorts for the Coachella Valley that continues to thrive today. Dan Chavkin's book comes at an appropriate time. Amid copious documentation of the groundbreaking architects and their most influential works, Dan presents us with a compendium of the contemporary work of the unsung pioneers alongside homes by noted architects William Cody, Donald Wexler, and E. Stewart Williams. With Dan's book, the community that now embraces its unique architectural past more than ever before has even more to celebrate. Decade after decade, fans of midcentury modern design have flocked to see these homes, to put a face to a name they have heard time and time again. Dan's research of the unseen desert modernism in the low desert is an attempt at putting names to some old faces to whom we were never introduced.
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