Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center will officially open on November 9 with its inaugural exhibition, An Eloquent Modernist, E. Stewart Williams, Architect. Williams is a member of the group of early post-World War II architects that landed in the Coachella desert and helped turn the resort into a fledgling center of modern design mostly for vacation and retirement homes but also of schools, commercial buildings, and civic monuments.
The original interior. (Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust, Julius Shulman Photography Archive)
Williams fittingly designed the building that houses the new museum as the Santa Fe Federal Savings in 1961. It has now been entirely renovated by Marmol Radziner and seems to easily work as an exhibition space with an uninterrupted, unified and open plan that both contains space and opens up to the beautiful landscape beyond. The glass and steel building has many of the design details like brise-soleil, terrazzo flooring, sliding grates, and grills and columns that mark high modernism in southern California but are not usually seen in commercial structures like banks. In fact, it works perfectly for a museum and exhibition space devoted to design and architecture. The 13,000-square-foot facility will also house an archive and design collection in its basement level that allows it to create an ambitious facility devoted to design.
The Palm Springs Art Museum, the parent of this new architecture and design center named the Edward Harris Pavilion, has assembled a talented and passionate team to direct the future of the center. A museum devoted simply to architecture might be hard to program after the first few exciting years but the managing director of the museum, J.R. Roberts, will open up its programming to include fashion, automobile design and other design disciples. The Executive Director of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the historian Dr. Steven Nash, has announced that the museum has been able to raise the $5.7 million (including the building purchase) it needs to renovate the bank and support several years of programming that is critical to running any sort of cultural facility in the 21st century. Finally, this team includes the accomplished daughter-in-law of Stewart Willams-Sidney who wil be the new museum’s head curator. There are virtually no models for an architecture and design museum in this country so it will be fascinating to watch this facility in the next decade as it grows and develops.