Desert Modernism


Palm Springs has the Largest Concentration of Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Since the 1920’s, visionary modernist architects have designed sleek, modern homes that have embraced the desert environment. The dramatic geographic surroundings of the Coachella Valley inspired a design aesthetic in the middle of the 20th Century now called Desert Modernism. Download Modernism App

Notable for its use of glass, clean lines, natural and manufactured resources and indoor/outdoor spaces, Desert Modernism evoked a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality. Influenced by the dictates of desert living and the intense climate, the style grew out of the architects and designer's adaptive use of inventive materials, modern construction techniques, new (post-war) technologies...and served an enthusiastic and willing clientele.

Talented architects were drawn to the desert by chance and opportunity. They created notable buildings of every type: residential, commercial, civic, religious, hotels, schools, cultural, etc.

Palm Springs architects and developers of the era include:

  • Richard Neutra
  • John Lautner
  • Donald Wexler
  • Albert Frey
  • William "Bill" Krisel, Palmer and Krisel, Inc.
  • William F. Cody
  • John Porter Clark
  • George and Robert Alexander (land developers and builders)
  • E. Stewart Williams

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) named Palm Springs, California to its 2006 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual national list of only 12 cultural tourism destinations for architecture. In 2009, Palm Springs was designated a Preserve America City (a Federal program) and welcomed in a letter by First lady Michelle Obama. There are several education and advocacy organizations in Palm Springs such as Palm Springs Modern Committee, Palm Springs Preservation Foundation and the Palm Springs Historical Society that are committed to preserving the historical sites in Palm Springs.

Experience Desert Modernism

  • Stay in a retro retreat. Many of the Palm Springs small hotels and vacation home rentals are mid-century classics.
  • Guided tours are available year-round. Learn about the masters of mid-century modern architecture by taking a van tour of the desert’s most notable architecture.
  • Take home a unique piece of desert modernism from the many of boutique shops along Palm Canyon Drive.
  • Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks at the Palm Springs Official Visitor Center, which was once the Tramway Gas Station designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers.
  • Attend the annual Modernism Week for special architecture tours, events, and programs.