The Understated Modernism of Don Wexler
This is last in the trilogy of posts on my trip to Palm Springs. (You can read the first two posts here and here. I am devoting this post solely to the work of Donald Wexler, FAIA, who my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting when we were in Palm Springs during Modernism Week.
Mr. Wexler, who is 85, is quite simply put, a rock star without the attitude. His work was feted throughout Modernism Week with the exhibit Steel and Shade: The Architecture of Don Wexler at the Palm Spring Art Museum and the showing of the file, Journeyman Architect: The Life and Work of Donald Wexler (Speaking of the movie, Modern Richmond is holding a showing of the film at the Virginia Architecture Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.)
He attended many of the other Modernism Week events, spoke on a panel and even took one of three-hour architecture tours of the city that he helped build and define. (Luckily, I picked the tour he was on.)
Wexler, who grew up in Minnesota, served in the Navy during World War II. Once his service was complete, he studied architecture at the University of Minnesota after taking an aptitude test saying he would be good at it; he was thinking of career in engineering. The test was right. After he graduated, he left Minnesota at 24 and snagged an apprenticeship with none other than Richard Neutra. He then worked for Palms Springs master William Cody before launching his own firm with Ric Harrison, who met in Cody’s office. They worked together from 1952 until 1961, when they amicably parted ways to start their own firms. After focusing on residential projects earlier in his career (think innovative Steel Houses), Wexler turned to more commercial and government projects, including schools and the beautiful and soaring Palm Springs International Airport.
“Wexler brings another dimension to his work: an understated but assured sense of aesthetics,” Michael Stern and Alan Hess write in Julius Shulman: Palm Springs. “His buildings have a humane sense of space, a refined sense of proportion, a sureness about details that reflect the hand of an excellent architect. His buildings do not share the expressionist energy of Lautner’s Elrod House, but he also has a sense of drama in a flaring, zigzagging roofline of a house, or the swept back lines of an airport roof.”
Enough with the words. See for yourself.
Here are some shots of the seven Steel Houses (1962). The homes were designed by Wexler and Harrison and built by George Alexander.