When it was first displayed in 1931 at the Architectural League of New York’s annual Exposition of Architectural and Allied Arts, the Aluminaire House designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher turned heads. Nobody had ever seen an “all-metal house” before.
To commemorate the groundbreaking prototype designed for delivering high-quality, low-cost housing for the masses, the Palm Springs Art Museum in Coachella, California announced last month a permanent exhibition dedicated to the avant-garde project by Frey and Kocher. Curators note that Aluminaire House warrants a permanent space given its important place in American architectural history. “It is representative of Frey’s utopian belief that the power of U.S. industry could be used to create affordable housing for everyone,” museum representatives said in a press release.
As reported by AN, plans to relocate the building from New York to California were first floated in 2021. The Palm Springs Art Museum launched a capital campaign in January 2023 to raise $2.6 million for its subsequent relocation. To date, the institution has raised $2.3 million toward that goal.
“This iconic work of modern architecture will be a tremendous contribution to the cultural landscape of Palm Springs,” Adam Lerner, CEO of Palm Springs Art Museum, said in the press release. “One of the museum’s core values is rooted in showcasing and preserving the architectural and design legacy that has come to define our city and continues to attract so many visitors from around the globe. The Aluminaire House™ represents a significant new phase in the museum’s engagement with our community’s extraordinary passion for architecture.”
As noted, Aluminaire House was radical for its time. It posited the use of prefabricated materials sourced from factories across the United States: sheet metal, plate glass, steel beams, linoleum, et al. It was a case study in building affordable, high-quality housing for the masses; a prescient subject given the country’s current housing crisis.
The prototype was physically built at a private residence in upstate New York where it eventually fell into a state of neglect. In 1986, architects Frances Campani and Michael Schwarting helped the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) acquire the home to save it from further degradation. After a series of complications at NYIT’s Long Island campus, Campani, Schwarting, and Palm Spring resident Mark Davis facilitated the relocation of Aluminaire House from New York to Coachella Valley, where Frey had built a slew of other avant-garde buildings.
The architecture firm coordinating the relocation is Marmol Radziner, a celebrated L.A. office. Palm Springs Art Museum board members L.J. Cella and Leo Marmol are facilitating logistics for the museum itself.
The permanent exhibition will open in February 2024 at the museum’s downtown Palm Springs campus. It will be unveiled just after another exhibition dedicated to Albert Frey opens on January 13, 2024, Albert Frey: Inventive Modernist, a retrospective curated by Brad Dunning at the Architecture and Design Center at Edwards Harris Pavilion.