Modernism Without The Ennui

Ace_Palm_Springs_1There has been much amusement in the design and architecture world recently over the satire of Modernist living in Dwell magazine on Unhappy Hipsters (where its anonymous authors rewrite photo captions to infer the soul-destroying emptiness of the Spartan Modern home). Not since Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle has Modern Living been so devastatingly mocked (Disclaimer: I love Modernism and I write for Dwell).

Such a desolate view of such architecture was nowhere to be found however this weekend in Palm Springs, which has spent the last week enjoying its bigger than ever Palm Springs Modernism Week, the annual festival hosted by the Palm Springs Museum of Art, under the energetic leadership of Sidney Williams, daughter-in-law of the late Palm Springs architect, Stewart Williams. The crowds included Angeleno enthusiasts, like John English, Ginny Glass and Chris Carr, local businesses trading in Mod Com (as in Modern commodities), and a string of high-profile academics – among them David De Long, Nicholas Olsberg, Jean-Louis Cohen, who each delivered erudite interpretations of the work and influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner. I was there yesterday, moderating a panel with architects Wendell Burnette and Frank Escher about Lautner and Wright’s legacy among architects now.  Treats included movie screenings and a tour of Lautner classics, taking in the Elrod House and the Pearlman Mountain cabin. (I had to return to LA but took a detour to check out Michael Lehrer’s Water and Life Museums in Hemet, a beacon of sustainable architecture within the Modern aesthetic).

Everyone stayed at the ACE Hotel, the newish hotel, shown in photo above left (from, that is very much designed with the Dwell sensibility in mind. As I lay in the all-white bedroom with concrete floor and prison cell lighting, only barely relieved by smatterings of 60s photos and 70s LPs, I must say I did feel a little like an Unhappy Hipster, yearning for the warmth and color and sensuality that the best Modernists, like John Lautner, never lost sight of.