Monday, August 28, 2006

Palm Springs: A Modernist Destination

The following post was written by West Vancouver Museum staff member Darren Penner, who recently travelled to Palm Springs, California.

When I decided to go to Palm Springs earlier this summer, I hadn't been thinking about architecture. When I got there, however, architecture quickly became a major focus. I've spent quite a bit of time in Palm Springs and the surrounding area, but this was my first trip down since I became interested in modernism. So in that sense, I was seeing many things for the first time - or at least looking at them in a different way.

Palm Springs is full of modernism. You see it in the architecture of office buildings, shopping centers, public buildings and private residences, in art, and interior design. Original modernist structures from the mid-20th century stand beside newer buildings which are being built in the modernist style. Interior design shops and rummage stores on Palm Canyon Drive and other places feature many, many pieces of modernist furniture and other household items. Much of it, of course, is pricey, but there are still a lot of bargains to be found.

Coming into the city from the west on Highway 111, the Palm Springs Visitors Center is one of the first buildings you'll see. Located at 2901 North Palm Canyon Drive, it was originally a gas station designed by Albert Frey. The roof is an especially striking feature, as you can see in the photos below. The building, built in 1965, eventually became an art gallery before being converted into the Visitors Center.

I should add that a stop at the Visitors Center is pretty much mandatory for anyone visiting Palm Springs to look at architecture, and not only because of the structure itself. Inside you'll find a lot of great books on Desert Modernism, which is also called Palm Springs Modernism. They are loaded with great pictures of modernist structures in Palm Springs and other cities throughout Southern California. I bought a book called Palm Springs Weekend: The Architecture and Design of a Midcentury Oasis (Danish, Andrew, and Alan Hess. Chronicle Books, 2001), which I highly recommend. I was also able to buy a driving tour map, which helped me find many of the more famous structures, such as the Neutra designed Kaufman Residence.

The Palm Springs Visitors Center (Albert Frey)

The Kaufman Residence (Richard Neutra)

Other interesting structures in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is an excellent place to go if you're into modernism. One word of warning though: It's hot in the summer, and I mean hot. Personally, I don't mind the heat, but with summertime temperatures that routinely get up past 44 degrees Celcius (110 degrees Fahrenheit), it would be too hot for a lot of people. It starts to cool down in September and in winter the daily temperatures are a comfortable low to mid 20s Celcius (70s on the Fahrenheit scale).


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