Monday, March 21, 2011

Forgotten Wexler & Harrison Rediscovered

Legendary local architect Donald Wexler confirmed recently that this sleek, early (for Palm Springs) International Style building was produced by his firm in their early years. Wexler & Harrison briefly maintained offices upstairs in the A. Quincy Jones / Paul R. Williams-designed Town & Country Center complex. They were commissioned by the building’s original owners to create a new office building fro E. F. Hutton within the compound, just off the walkway that leads to the courtyard. The result was this refined, minimalist structure with green terrazzo flooring throughout and a simple, open interior space. Its grey terrazzo tile fa├žade could use some polishing, and through the magic of Photoshop, I have restored the long gone awning fabric, but the formalist purity of the building survives largely unaltered. After a few years, E. F. Hutton relocated to a Hugh Kaptur building on Tahquitz Canyon Way. This handsome structure remains vacant and unprotected. Ironically, during a time when the city celebrates Don Wexler’s contributions to the local architectural scene through an exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum, spokesman for the Museum recently endorsed the current Desert Fashion Plaza Development Plan, which would result in the demolition of this fine example of Wexler & Harrison‘s work.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Folded Plate Roofs

According to C. B. Wilby in his book Concrete Folded Plate Roofs, Folded plates are sometimes called hipped plates, and in Germany “Faltwerke”. The principle was first used in Germany by a structural engineer named Ehlers in 1924, to cover large coal bunkers. Folded plate roofs allow large spans, clean lines and they are aesthetically pleasing to many architects.

In the 1960s, folded plates became less structural in nature, and are now usually considered mid-century decoration. Early examples illustrated here are Morris Lapidus’ 1960 decorative folded plate element used for a street canopy in Miami. In 1966, a similar canopy was built at Villa Roma in Palm Springs. Other early examples include Wexler & Harrison’s 1962 steel house and Val Powelson’s 1960 Sunbow House in LA. Two local versions by Santa Barbara architect Barry Berkus are the Park Imperial South and Merito Manor complexes from 1960 and 1961 respectively.

Not as well-known, but quite interesting in its own right is the Animal Medical Hospital (1960, Robert Ricciardi) at 606 South Oleander Road that features a folded plate roof on a circular floor plan.

A few years ago, Dink’s Restaurant & Lounge on North Palm Canyon was built new from the ground up. Attempting to recall the town’s Mid-century Modernism, the building unresolved and overly busy design features a section of folded plates; unclear on the concept…they appear to be supported by beams….go figure.

The last image is from the gallery entrance to the Don Wexler, Steel and Shade exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It is a replica of the roof on Wexler & Harrison’s 300 Molino Road steel house. On the whole, the Wexler & Harrison design seems the most elegant.