Prolific midcentury modern architect William Krisel passed away this week at the age of 92.
The architect is well-known for the multitudinous midcentury modern homes he designed across Southern California and the surrounding regions. Overall, Krisel is credited with designing over 40,000 homes, in addition to many other types of structures. He is also credited with helping to extend the benefits of mass-produced tract housing throughout the region and with attempting to tackle the stylistic, formal, and urban complexities of these new suburban environments.
Krisel, who often worked with the Alexander Construction Company, built homes and condominiums in Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, as well.
Krisel standing in front of a Twin Palms home in Palm Springs, California. (Courtesy Chris Menrad)
One of Krisel’s signature projects was the 90-unit Twin Palms development in Palm Springs, California, a tract home development made up of 1,600-square-foot post-and-beam style homes. According to the Krisel Connection site, the homes were designed with varied facades and rooflines, feature clerestory windows along most exposures, and are marked by exposed wood beam construction. Each 10,000-square-foot lot in the development was originally planted with a pair of palm trees—hence the development’s name—that complimented the home’s dramatic landscape designs, also envisioned by Krisel.
Architectural historian Alan Hess marked Krisel’s passing in a Facebook post by calling Krisel “one of California’s most influential and dedicated Modern architects” who “succeeded in bringing Modern planning and systems to… the design and construction of affordable single family homes for the general public.” With so many built commissions and a wide collection of preservation groups currently working to maintain and promote the architect’s works, it’s clear that Krisel succeeded in pioneering successful early mass housing experiments—the “Holy Grail” of modernism that according to Hess, greats like “Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright sought but never achieved.”
Chris Menrad of the executive board of the Palm Springs Modern Committee told the Desert Sun that the architect’s dramatic stylistic vision propelled modern architecture forward. Menrad said, “The concept for offering the builder various roof lines—flat, gables, inverted butterfly or whatever—is something that he sort of brought to the table so that they could essentially have very similar floor plans but have homes that looked quite different.” “And that look, as well as that concept, did get adopted.”
Krisel was the subject of a 2016 documentary on the architect’s work titled William Krisel, Architect. The film can be seen on Vimeo.