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Desert Modernism

Picture Dictionary of Modern Architecture: Desert Modernism

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Architects in southern California and the American Southwest adapted ideas from the European Bauhaus movement to the warm climate and arid terrain.
Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California

Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California. 1946. Richard Neutra, architect.

Photo © Jackie Craven
Desert Modernism was a mid-twentieth century approach to modernism that capitalized on the sunny skies and warm climate of southern California and American Southwest. With expansive glass and streamlined styling, Desert Modernism was an regional approach to International Style architecture. Rocks, trees, and other landscape features were often incorporated into the design.

Characteristics of Desert Modernism:

  • Expansive glass walls and windows
  • Dramatic rooflines
  • Wide overhangs
  • Steel and plastic combined with wood and stone
  • Open floor plans
  • Outdoor living spaces incorporated into the overall design

Architects Associated With Desert Modernism:

See examples of Desert Modernism:

Examples of Desert Modernism may be found throughout southern California and parts of the American Southwest, but the largest and best-preserved examples of the style are concentrated in Palm Springs, California. Landmark buildings include:
  • Kaufmann House (shown above) in Palm Springs, California. 1946. Richard Neutra, architect.
  • Grace Lewis Miller House in Palm Springs, California. 1937. Richard Neutra, architect.
  • Edris House in Palm Springs, California. 1954. E. Stewart Williams, architect.
  • Frey II House in Palm Springs, California. 1963. Albert Frey, architect.
  • The Bob Hope House in Palm Springs, California. 1979. John Lautner, architect.
  • Loewy House in Palm Springs California. 1946. Albert Frey, architect.
  • The Arthur Elrod House in Palm Springs, California. 1968. John Lautner, architect.
  • Tramway Upper Station in Palm Springs, California. 1963. E. Stewart Williams, architect.
  • Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum). 1976. E. Stewart Williams, architect.
Also important were the Alexander Houses, sophisticated homes that the Alexander Construction Company built in Palm Springs, California.

Related Terms:

Sources for this Article:

  • Palm Springs Modern: Houses in the California Desert (compare prices)
  • Palm Springs Weekend: The Architecture and Design of a Midcentury Oasis (compare prices)
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