Saturday, June 29, 2013

William Krisel

Pacifica House
William Krisel-designed home in San Diego. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Modernism was initially meant to be a popular movement. It is not just a design or an aesthetic but a way of life. Its early promise was to improve living conditions for the average person and make houses and objects more affordable through efficiencies gained in streamlined and simplified production techniques. Alas, it has never quite lived up to this promise.

The work of William Krisel is a rare exception to this rule. 

William Krisel, AIA, is one of the most important figures in modern architecture since the 1950s. His influence has been far-reaching; he is one of the few architects to have succeeded in the challenge of bringing modernism to the general public. His designs have fundamentally re-defined how we live today.

William Krisel-designed home in San Diego. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Living Area
Interior of Krisel-designed home in San Diego. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Most architects - including the modernists - have eschewed the opportunity to work with merchant builders. It's largely been looked down upon and discouraged by the profession, who instead have always favored designing homes for wealthy clients (or even better, taking on large, prestigious commissions for offices, schools, opera houses, government buildings, etc.).

University City Housing Tract, 1960
Opening of models of Krisel-designed homes in University City (San Diego).

But Bill saw this as a niche that had the opportunity to make a big impact, and enjoyed the challenge of designing beautiful and functional modernist homes that developers could build on a mass scale, quickly and efficiently. 
Living-Conditioned Homes
Interior of Krisel-designed home in Northridge. Photo by George de Gennaro.
Archive of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute

He saw that the way to a developers heart was through their bank account. Show you can save them money on homes that people want to buy and you are set.

University City Housing Tract, 1960
Opening of Krisel-designed University City (San Diego) model homes.

So together with his partner, Dan Palmer, Bill Krisel began to collaborate with the Alexanders (father and son) - first in Los Angeles and then in Palm Springs. 

Bob Alexander with his E-type Jaguar, in front of the House of Tomorrow
that Krisel designed for him and his wife Helene in 1960.
The house would later be rented by Elvis Presley, and he would spend his honeymoon there with Priscilla.  Photo from an article that appeared in Look Magazine. 
Their collaboration transformed that city from a small weekend getaway destination for wealthy Angelinos into a major vacation resort town with international renown, and a fundamentally modernist aesthetic.

Rendering of Ocotillo Lodge by William Krisel. From the archives of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute.  
Ocotillo Lodge
Vintage Postcard of Ocotillo Lodge, designed by William Krisel (1957)
Racquet Club Estates
Krisel-designed home in Racquet Club Estates, Palm Springs. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Valley of the Sun

Rendering by William Krisel for his Valley of the Sun project in Rancho Mirage, CA (1957)

Archive of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute
Upcoming Krisel Lecture
Archive of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute
University City
Archive of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute
Twin Palms
The Twin Palms development behind the Ocotillo Lodge was Krisel's first project with the Alexanders in Palm Springs (1957). Photo ©Darren Bradley
From the archives of William Krisel. Getty Research Institute. 
Photo by Julius Shulman. From the archives of William Krisel. Getty Research Institute.
That lovely lady in the photo is Krisel's wife, Corinne. 
I first learned about Bill and his work in Palm Springs when I rented a vacation house there for a weekend with my wife back in 1998. The house was deceptively simple but flowed well and was so comfortable and beautifully designed that I didn't want to leave. 
Palm Springs House / Maison à Palm Springs
The original house we rented in 1998, in the Vista Las Palmas tract of Palm Springs. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Once we returned home to San Diego, we set about trying to find a similarly designed house there. After a bit of research, I discovered several neighborhoods in the area that Bill had also designed. After much searching, we found one for sale and bought it. Many of the photos here are of that house.

Pacifica House, 2012 Edition
Pacifica Tract in San Diego, designed by Krisel and developed by Leonard Drogin in 1959-61. Photo ©Darren Bradley
When we bought our house, I reached out to Bill to ask him a few questions and learn more about his work. We have since developed a close friendship. He continues to actively reach out to the architecture and design communities, and is a regular participant at AIA and ModCom events in Palm Springs. 
William Krisel
William Krisel at a PS ModCom event at the Valley of the Sun tract in 2011. Photo ©Darren Bradley
William Krisel. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Why are their Krisel-designed homes and other projects in San Diego? Well, once developers saw the success of this model with the Alexanders, other commissions quickly followed. Soon, they were working with developers throughout the southwest and countrywide. His work has fundamentally shaped the character of many communities throughout the region, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Pacifica Homes, San Diego, CA
Rendering from the brochure for the Viewpoint North development in San Diego. From the archives of William Krisel, Getty Research Institute.
Krisel has designed more than 40,000 living units throughout the country in a career that has spanned well over 50 years. He has also designed numerous condo and apartment projects (both low and high rise), as well as office towers, hotels, hospitals, factories, and just about every other sort of structure imaginable, during the course of his career. 

His archive now resides at the Getty Research Institute, and his work is featured in the present exhibit, Overdrive, at the Getty Museum.

For more information on the fascinating life and work of William Krisel, please check out the PS ModCom site and the site of my friend, Keith York. There's also a page on Krisel on the Dwell website. The Getty Research Institute also did a blog article about him here. There is also a documentary film on Krisel's life and work (which includes my home). You can see the trailer for that here.   


cath61 said...

Great blog on William Krisel! Our website has just completed a full collection of his work with photos and information if you'd like to take a look. If you have anything to add, or a question, you can email me as I am the historian who did the research (a lot of projects!). Would certainly love to hear about anything I missed or if you have any comments.

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