Preservation and Mid Century Modern - some thoughts as Palm Springs Modernism Week approaches:

It seemed curious at first, the mix of preservation and Modernism Week, a panel discussion hosted by Atomic Ranch.

And well yes, Mid Century now qualifies for consideration as “historic” having passed the 50 year mark.  

Unique to Palm Springs, where I live and practice architecture, and serve on the Historic Sites Preservation Board, the threshold of “historic” has now been moved to the 1980’s.  In recognition of the cultural and economic importance of mid-century architecture both defining and being defined by this desert environment.

In preparation for this panel discussion has been a lively discussion of how to “update” and “modernize” incorporating new products and current lifestyles.

So why include a preservationist?  Don’t they usually just want to keep things frozen in time - “period of significance”.  Well, yes.  And not always.

As a preservationist, the task is often to begin with an evaluation of the “resource”, does it have “integrity” - part of the process of “designation”.

This process begins with an identification of “character defining features” - what makes this particular building unique, exemplary of a particular architect/architectural style.  And integrity, how much of the original remains unaltered, structure, setting, context.  And is this “site” still able to tell the story that it did when it was most significant?

Briefly, the “character defining features” of mid century modern - the “I know one when i see one”, well yes, but look more closely and take inventory!

William Cody, Racquet Club Cottages West, circa 1960

William Cody, Racquet Club Cottages West, circa 1960

They are of a recognizable “modern” aesthetic - intentionally devoid of historic architectural trappings and frosting. 

They tend to hug the ground.

They have simple roof shapes.

There is an economy of construction materials used to define space.

Those materials are often expressive of what they are, and visual delight comes from the texture of block, transparency, expressed structure.

There is the mix of traditional and new building materials.  Undecorated and true to what they are.

There is more often a modulated experience of space as one moves through the buildings.  Rather than “all is revealed” when one opens the front door, there is a flow and modulation, containment and transparency both under the roof and to beyond to nature.  Yes “open floor plans”, but sequenced and partitioned.  And even in the most modest Alexander-Krisel  tract homes a variety of spacial experiences and transparencies.

And so; what is the appropriate response to: I want to…?