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PRESIDENT'S LETTER

 

In our last issue, we talked about the novel experiment going on at Desert Palisades in Palm Springs: the construction of a previously un-built design for a modern home by Alfred Newman Beadle (1927-1998).

It was based on a Beadle design from 1977. The project faced questions we often muse about while touring historic homes. Could it be constructed today? How would it be different?

I had the opportunity to tour the residence while at Modernism Week in February. Although not completely finished, the house’s daring structural statement was intact—a 50-foot-long rectangle balanced on a much narrower base that relies on heavy, 14-inch-thick steel beams to hold the “arms” of the house suspended above the desert floor.

Adapted by local architect Lance O’ Donnell, AIA, of o2 Architecture, under the watchful eye of long-time Beadle employee, architect Edward A. Sawyer, the house retains its pure geometries. Beadle, however, did not leave any indication about the orientation of the house to the sun. O’Donnell’s choice of site for the house required the pool to be built away from the structure, due to the presence of several large boulders. Sawyer questioned the decoupling of the pool design from the same rigorous structural grid as the house’s plan, suggesting that Beadle’s strong preference was for consistency in design.

Because the house was originally designed for a site in Paradise Valley, AZ, it was also not designed to withstand the forces of a powerful earthquake on a site just a few miles from the San Andreas fault. The house had to be re-engineered to face a possible seismic incident.

Lastly, the new plans integrated corten steel into the design. When asked about the use of the new and fashionable material, Sawyer replied with a position worthy of any Case Study House architect: Beadle was always interested in the latest materials and technologies. Had the original architect been designing today, he would have likely tried to incorporate the material into his work.
So while the experiment did involve some compromises, the result is a highly dramatic modern home, reconstructed for the contemporary world. And so, the legacy of modernism in Palm Springs lives on in a whole new way.

Sian Winship

 
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