Above: A steel-framed Alexander Home in Palm Springs with a signature ‘folded-plate’ roof line designed by Donald Wexler in the early 1960’s. Photo: Darren Bradley
On June 26th, 2015, the world lost noted and influential architect Donald Wexler. Known for pioneering the use of steel in residential architecture, his work designing some of the famed ‘Alexander Homes’ in Palm Springs, as well as several public facilities the designs of Donald Wexler are timeless examples of rational and functional architecture, the lessons of which are still applied today.
Born in South Dakota in 1926 Wexler attended the University of Minnesota and upon graduating worked with Richard Neutra who had a tremendous impact on the young architect. Shortly after his time with Neutra Wexler moved to Palm Springs where he remained and practiced for nearly six decades, developing a pragmatic style that was definitive Desert Modernism. With careful consideration for designs that reflect the climate and with projects ranging from celebrity homes to public schools, Wexler became the architect of the Desert. His buildings often feature long overhangs and design awareness for the angles of the sun. “I try to work with the desert as much as possible,” he once said. But of all his distinctive architectural features, it is his folded plate roof design that is perhaps best known; it has since gone on to become an icon of Palm Springs.
With planned efficiency his buildings, despite each being unique in design, fit together tightly and creates an aesthetic gestalt with nothing unnecessary or out of place – a cohesion that can be seen in the homes he designed for the El Rancho Vista Estates development. The elegance of Wexler’s architecture is not a frivolous design affectation, but the byproduct of research and intelligent thinking. It is this pragmatism that makes a Wexler home as livable – and as beautiful – today as when it was first built 50 years ago.
Eschewing academic architectural theory Wexler once said, “I never tried to do any kind of style.” But he is a man of Modernism, and this was not something he betrayed even when he desperately needed the work. Early in his career and eager for a contract, Wexler was approached by a couple that requested a house designed in “an early American style.” “You mean like a tepee?” responded Wexler rather wryly. The couple left unimpressed.
The legacy and lessons of Donald Wexler are unquestionable and his influence enduring. There is not an architect working today on a design of a building for the desert climate that does not owe a debt to the works of Donald Wexler. And through his use of ‘inorganic’ materials, like glass, steel, and concrete – materials Wexler felt best suited to the desert – these homes have stood the test of time. “The buildings in the desert have stood up very well,” Wexler once said. “The only regret is that I’m growing too old.” A legacy is the closest we can come to immortality and for Donald Wexler that’s a beautiful forever indeed.
There is an expression that talking about art is like dancing about architecture. So let’s stop talking about the art and dancing about the architecture and pay tribute to Donald Wexler with a look at some of his wonderful works!
A history of Steel Home in Palm Springs
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