After World War Two, many Americans who lived in Southern California saw a large construction boom when heading towards the Coachella Valley. With the harsh and rugged environment of the Southern California desert, many architects were able to experiment in a region that had little architectural influence prior. Here, Desert Modernism was formed, a distinctive branch of the Modern / International movement occurring during the 1950’s in America
The Desert Modernist aesthetic tends to have a very simplistic view when it comes to architecture and interior design. I noticed a frequent use of cantilever roofs to emphasize the often triangular roof profiles. In addition, there are often windows placed in strategic locations allowing the residents to have ample sunlight, while not sacrificing privacy. More often than not, this architectural style created houses that were very brightly colored, often allowing for great contrast from the desert floor.
When tasked with designing these magnificent houses, many architects realized that each house had to satisfy the landscape directly surrounding it. For example, in Palm Springs, California there are many large rocks and Joshua trees surrounding the neighborhoods. I like this unique aspect to Desert Modernism because no piece is truly the same. As the surrounding natural environment changes, the architecture will change with it.
I think the photo above perfectly demonstrates the adaptability of desert modernism. Here, there is clearly a rugged background in the natural landscape and the home integrates itself into this landscape seamlessly. The use of large windows is a common theme within Desert Modernism and allows the house to have optimal natural lighting. One of my favorite features from this home is the white cushions integrated into the steps down to the pool. I think this certain design for seating was chosen because it allows people to have the most shade during the hot desert summers. The house above was created by one of the founders of the Desert Modernist movement, Donald Wexler who made over 10 of these steel roofed homes. Notice how Wexler utilizes the shape of the roof to mimic the surrounding mountain ranges.
In addition, many Desert Modernist homes utilize green landscaping and plants from the local area. One of the largest influencers in early desert modernism, E. Stewart Williams stated, “Buildings must be compatible with the land where they sit, compatible with the colors and materials and the shape and form of the site”. This quote is important because it lays out the basics of Desert Modernism, while also allowing for the surrounding environments to dictate each case of this aesthetic.
Although it seems Desert Modernism may be stuck in the 1960’s in the Southern California desert, it’s true that many people are utilizing this aesthetic in modern house design in present day. In addition, Desert Modernism is heavily influencing the interior design of many modern homes all around the world.
Palm Springs Visitors Center. (n.d.). https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/listing/palm-springs-visitors-center/19731/
Carrier, K. (2017, January 2). An Inside Look at Desert Modernism. Desert Modernism. https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/blog/post/an-inside-look-at-desert-modernism/
Garner, R. (2023, December 14). Desert Modernism style. Visit Palm Springs. https://visitpalmsprings.com/desert-modernism-2/
Serisier, G. (2023, January 18). Desert modernism for the 21st century. Habitusliving.com. https://www.habitusliving.com/architecture/tim-ditchfield-architects-las-palmas
Henderson, R. (2021, June 26). Desert modernism: Coachella Valley’s favorite styleAtomicRanch. Atomic Ranch. https://www.atomic-ranch.com/architecture-design/desert-modernism/
Carrier, K. (2015, August 2). An Inside Look at Desert Modernism. Inside Look. https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/blog/post/an-inside-look-at-desert-modernism/