Desert Modernism: Mid-Century Modern in Palm Springs

Desert Modernism may not be as well-known as some of its mid-century modern contemporaries but their era and birthplace is clear. Unsurprisingly, the style suits its southern California and American Southwest locations, taking advantage of the environment to create the stunning architecture that has defined the region since the 1920s.

The approach was the area’s version of International Style, the American interpretation of Bauhaus. The most notable buildings arguably emerged in Palm Springs in the 1920s, beginning with R. M. Schindler’s Coachella cabin and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oasis Hotel.

There are key traits that distinguish Desert Modernism. They generally feature a large amount of glass, wide overhangs, open interiors, dramatic rooflines and a combination of steel and plastic with natural materials. Most distinctive is the combination of outdoor living space and the rest of the design. It’s a look that stands out from the surroundings, even when the surroundings are integrated in.

It looks especially fantastic when matched with organic lines of the Rove Concepts Noguchi Coffee Table and the classic Rove Concepts Barcelona Chair, Barcelona Daybed, Barcelona Bench, Barcelona Loveseat and Barcelona Sofa. It’s easy to imagine the iconic Hollywood stars on the iconic mid-century modern reproductions.

The architecture of Palm Springs and the area around it creates nostalgic ideas of 1950s movie stars, the Rat Pack and poolside martinis. However, many of the architects became famous in their own right. Some of these notables include Albert Frey, Richard Neutral, John Lautner and E. Stewart Williams.

Unfortunately, like many past architectural styles, Desert Modernism is being threatened by encroaching urban redevelopment. The center of controversy is in Palm Springs. Buildings are not just vulnerable to destruction. Because designers took the environment into account when originally creating these buildings, any changes to the landscape changes the buildings.

Luckily, there are efforts to protect and stop property demolition. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Palm Springs Modern committee and the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, among others, work to keep Palm Springs and other Desert Modernist buildings intact.

The tourist industry supports these advocacy groups. You can stay in many original hotels and home rentals available and go on architecture tours in Desert Modernism areas. There is also an annual public library exhibit that focuses on the style and the annual Modernism Week in Palm Springs.

There has been a recent resurgence in Desert Modernism that has led to restorations and new growths in preservation efforts. Take a look and see why this architecture has captured people’s attention for almost a century.


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