By Judith Salkin –

Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, William F. Cody, William Krisel and Stewart Williams all found a relatively blank architectural canvas when they arrived in the desert in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

What they created in the arid climate is a landscape filled with beautiful examples of both commercial and residential buildings that espouse the concepts of midcentury modern living.

For the past eight years, Palm Springs Modernism Week has celebrated the work of these men and others with a yearly salute to midcentury architecture, design, furnishings and culture.


This year, Modernism Week runs today through Feb. 14, and will attract an international audience, said Palm Springs Modernism Executive Director Nickie McLaughlin and Jacques Caussin (cq), chairman of Modernism Week.

What started as a weekend of educational events for the valley eight years ago, “has grown into a love affair between the attendees and the preservations organizations in Palm Springs,” Caussin said on a recent sunny afternoon in Palm Springs. “And really, who doesn’t want to come and spend a week in Palm Springs in February?”

Caussin was one of the instigators of Modernism Week. In 2001, he brought a modernism show to Palm Springs and fell in love with the desert. He purchased a home here in 2003 and by 2004, Caussin was a permanent, living in a midcentury in the Twin Palms neighborhood, and an important proponent of preserving the iconic desert homes and building.

When Modernism Weekend started, “we definitely didn’t plan for this kind of growth,” McLaughlin said. “We had a staff that was all volunteers and we certainly couldn’t look at the future to see how it would affect the valley. We didn‘t know if there‘d even be a second year.”

They had to borrow $2,500 from each of Palm Springs’ preservation organizations to build their website. “They had no way of knowing if we would pay them back!” Caussin said.

Of course, that was also before the event was discovered by midcentury enthusiasts around the country and the globe. Last year’s event logged more than 35,000 visitors to the valley from around the world, with a ratio of about 60/40 percent of new visitors to repeaters. “Which means, if you come once, you’re likely to keep coming back,” Caussin said.

McLaughlin knows of one group of nearly 40 from Australia who were due to land earlier this week. “They’ve all been before,” she said. “This year they’re all coming together for the first time.”


Caussin likens the growth of modernism in the valley to the similar growth of the appreciation of Art Deco movement in Miami. “It’s more than just architecture,” he said. “It’s the whole culture and the lifestyle, and people want to experience it all.”

Modernism Week doesn’t only look to the past. The debut last year of the Expo Tent and Prefab Showcase gave guests a current on modernism with homes that carry forward the modernism concepts of seamless indoor/outdoor living, products that update existing homes while maintaining their historical integrity, green technologies, style and furnishings.

There are free events and low-cost events like films and lectures (have you purchased your tickets for “Moby on Modernism?” It’s only $20) that offer an education on architecture of the midcentury and those who are preserving that part of our cultural history.

One example is the Blu Homes prefab open house on both Sunday in Joshua Tree. The three units that make up the desert home of Tim Disney is a living example of how the influences of modernism can be incorporated into 21st century lifestyles, while disturbing as little of the surrounding landscape as possible.

Looking to the future means encouraging the next generation to embrace the concepts and ideals of modernism. “This year for the first time we have bus tours just for students,” McLaughlin said. “And scholarships funded by the proceeds of the week for future architecture and design students,” Caussin added.

One important overlap is the annual Architecture Symposium presented by the Palm Springs Art Museum.  In past years the museum has presented a retrospective of the work of Donald Wexler and the development of Modernism movement around the world.

This year’s symposium looks at “The Public and the Modern House,” which brings together an international panel to discuss the delicate balance of public access to buildings that were not designed to withstand unlimited access. “It’s an important and exciting subject, especially given the iconic buildings and homes here in the desert,” said Sidney Williams, curator of Architecture and Design at the museum.

While the week is heavy on education, there are events that look more at the cultural influences of modernism like fashion shows, cocktail martini parties and concerts. “There’s really something for everybody,” McLaughlin said.

Information:  Palm Springs Modernism Week

Event locations include Palm Springs Convention Center; Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands; Marrakesh Country Club; Frey House II; Prairie Schooner Parking Lot; Hilton Hotel; Ace Hotel and Swim Club; Club Trinidad. General information and tickets: