8 Great Modern Masters - Page 4

Mid-century architects of Southern California who pioneered an international movement
8 Great Modern Masters
8 Great Modern Masters
Albert Frey and the Frey house, Palm Springs (1965).


Few places in the world can differ from Switzerland as much as Palm Springs. Yet that is where Albert Frey (1903-1998) flourished for most his career. He helped provide the town with its architectural definition.

A student of architect Le Corbusier, who proclaimed "a house is a machine to live in," Frey went on to work in a variety of manners.

His work ranged from the steel-framed 'Aluminaire House' built at New York's Museum of Modern Art (designed with A. Lawrence Kocher) to early desert homes sheathed in corrugated metal, modern ranch homes at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, and one home—for himself no less—that author Alan Hess compared to "a science-fiction tank" because of a second-story addition that suggests a turret.

Frey's work partook of the sense of exploration seen in the work of European Expressionist designers such as Alvar Aalto, and could be appropriately playful for a vacationland like Palm Springs.

"Frey's machine images express a sense of enjoyment, delight, and of play more akin to the popular science fiction of the comic strip than to the world of high-art modernism," Joseph Rosa wrote in his book Albert Frey, Architect.

The second house Frey built for himself—compact, glass walled, roofed with metal, its interior living area incorporating a natural outcrop of rock—has become a defining image of Palm Springs architecture. When architecture blends with the landscape in the desert, the result is far from woodsy and warm.

Frey clearly loved the desert, moving to Palm Springs in the late 1930s when it had few year-round inhabitants, and staying.

Like many socially conscious architects of his generation, Frey was interested in mass housing and designed a never-built subdivision that would have hugged the nearby Salton Sea. He also designed many institutional and governmental buildings, some with colleagues, including the expressionistic Tramway Gas Station, with a flying roof that welcomes visitors to the town to this day.