No, it’s not a mirage; that sprawl of spaceship-like buildings rising from the Sonoran Desert is the concrete-real, time-capsule town of Palm Springs, which reaches its throwback-culture zenith this month with Modernism Week (13–23 February). But while open-house tours and talks immerse a vintage-clad crowd in design heritage, the city’s contemporary architects are equally on a roll.
Lance O’Donnell’s Desert House No.1 seemingly hovers over a boulder-strewn hillside, while Studio AR&D’s 110-residence Desert Palisades opens with a Guardhouse (pictured) featuring gravity-defying cantilevering and a richly rusted patina.
“We wanted it to look like it was launching off the hillside,” explains architect Sean Lockyer. In part, he says, this new breed of buildings taps classic Palm Spring design DNA: blurred indoor-outdoor boundaries; low-rise, open-plan structures (there’s space to build wide here, unlike LA’s restricted plots). But today’s cutting-edge engineering techniques achieve increasingly daring architectural acrobatics, while eco concerns mean a more raw, organic finish is favoured, materials left to weather naturally. Proof, in any case, that the city’s creative juices clearly haven’t run dry.