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William Krisel: The Architect Who Defined Palm Springs Modernism

Paul Kaplan

I've made it a professional goal to be known as a leader in the Real Estate industry in the Palm Springs market for the past 20+ years...

I've made it a professional goal to be known as a leader in the Real Estate industry in the Palm Springs market for the past 20+ years...

Feb 21 6 minutes read

860 E. Grace Circle, Palm Springs860 E. Grace Circle, Palm Springs 

The Paul Kaplan Group is grateful for the architects who contributed to the "Desert Modernism" movement in Palm Springs, including William "Bill" Krisel, AIA, who is responsible for the design of thousands of homes in the Palm Springs area.

Overhead of Racquet Club Estates neighborhoodOverhead of Racquet Club Estates neighborhood

The Paul Kaplan Group has had the pleasure of selling countless mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs designed by the visionary architect, William Krisel. In this post, we'll delve into Krisel's life, explore his iconic designs, and discover where to find his architectural gems in Palm Springs.

A Life Dedicated to Design

Born in Shanghai in 1924, William Krisel's fascination with architecture began early. By high school, he was already sketching architectural concepts and developing a curriculum with his art teacher. Even a childhood drawing sent to an architect at his father's request sparked a career path. After serving in World War II, Krisel pursued his passion at the University of Southern California, graduating with honors in 1949.

Mentorship and the Birth of a Partnership

Early influences included renowned architects Paul Laszlo and Victor Gruen. While working at Gruen's firm, Krisel met Dan Palmer, his future business partner. Together, they embarked on a prolific journey, shaping the Palm Springs landscape.

Palm Springs Transformed: The Rise of Desert Modernism

Krisel and Palmer received numerous commissions from developers like Alexander Construction Co. Their first Palm Springs project, Twin Palms Estates (1957), set the stage. These vacation homes embraced the desert climate and lifestyle, prioritizing affordability through pre-fabricated elements and standardized plans. To add visual interest, Krisel cleverly rotated layouts and offered multiple roof options.

Krisel's Enduring Architectural Legacy

Through his designs, Krisel established the hallmarks of Palm Springs Modernism:

  • Butterfly Roofs: A signature element adding a touch of whimsy and functionality.
  • Clerestory Windows: High windows flooding interiors with natural light and blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Living: Homes designed to seamlessly integrate with the desert environment, encouraging an alfresco lifestyle.
  • Breezeways: Open-air hallways connecting different living areas and promoting natural ventilation.
  • Open Carports: Replacing traditional garages, these carports offered a more open and modern aesthetic.
  • Exposed Concrete Block: A cost-effective material that added a distinctive textural element to exteriors.

Beyond Buildings: A Holistic Approach

Krisel understood the importance of landscape design. He even obtained a license in 1954. His signature touch involved bold shapes in gravel gardens, creating a modern counterpoint to the desert landscape. Plant selection was driven by design function, further emphasizing the cohesive vision of each property.

2610 N. Starr Road, Palm Springs2610 N. Starr Road, Palm Springs, in Racquet Club Estates 

The duo of Krisel and Palmer received numerous commissions from tract home developers in Palm Springs, including the Alexander Construction Co., with the first Palm Springs tract being Twin Palms Estates in 1957. The homes were intended as vacation properties that would take advantage of the Palm Springs climate and lifestyle, while utilizing cost-saving methods such as repeating identical square plans and prefabricating some elements of the home. In order to give the appearance of variety, Krisel rotated the homes to present different facades, and multiple roof options also created distinction between homes. 

Vintage image of Ocotillo LodgeVintage image of Ocotillo Lodge

900 E. Murray Canyon, Palm Springs900 E. Murray Canyon, Palm Springs, in Kings Point 

Additional Krisel projects include Ocotillo Lodge, Racquet Club Estates, Canyon View Estates, Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas), Kings Point, the Sandpiper condominium complex in Palm Desert, Valley of the Sun Estates in Rancho Mirage and the “House of Tomorrow,” the personal home of the Alexander family which was also the site of Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s honeymoon in 1967.

House of Tomorrow exteriorExterior of the "House of Tomorrow"

House of Tomorrow interiorLiving room in the "House of Tomorrow"

Through his prolific body of work, Krisel introduced architectural elements that have become the identifying and iconic components of modernist style: butterfly roofs, clerestory windows, indoor/outdoor living, breezeways, open carports and exposed concrete block.

Butterfly roof home in Racquet Club EstatesButterfly roof home in Racquet Club Estates

2590 Starr Road, Palm SpringsStarr Road, Palm Springs, in Racquet Club Estates 

Landscape design was viewed by Krisel as an integral part of the overall design process, and he even obtained a landscape architecture license in 1954. His signature use of bold shapes in gravel beds helped to modernize front yards, and plant selections were primarily based upon their design function. 

Vista Las Palmas 'Sunflap' homeVista Las Palmas 'Sunflap' home

Canyon View Estates concrete block detailCanyon View Estates concrete block detail 

Finding Your Dream Krisel Home

Today, Krisel's designs continue to captivate. If you seek a mid-century modern oasis in Palm Springs, explore neighborhoods like Twin Palms, Racquet Club Estates, and Vista Las Palmas. With a keen eye, you might just discover your own piece of Krisel's enduring architectural legacy.

To search for architectural homes in Palm Springs, contact The Paul Kaplan Group at 760-459-1396.  Mid-century homes have been our specialty for the past 20 years!

Search for homes by William Krisel Here

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