Steel and Shade: The Architecture of Donald Wexler

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Donald Wexler: Born in South Dakota in 1926, Donald Wexlerremains one of the most influential and famous architects to leave his mark on modern and midcentury architecture in the Palm Springs area. Wexler’s practice began with the design of prefabricated houses and portable classrooms constructed of light gauge steel. The extremes of the desert climate forced Wexler to develop a sustainable architecture, which was not only successful functionally, but achieved a timeless aesthetic appeal. He pioneered commercial and residential construction using steel and prefabrication. He applied his groundbreaking techniques and unique style to projects for clients such as Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, the Alexander Construction Company and Walt Disney World Resort. During his career he designed numerous houses and condominium complexes, as well as banks, office parks, and schools. He still resides in Palm Springs. Lauren Weiss Bricker: Lauren Weiss Bricker, PhD, is professor of architecture at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Director of the Archives-Special Collections in the College of Environmental Design. Sidney Williams: Sidney Williams is curator of architecture and design at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Bernard Perlin: Bernard Perlin was working for a Los Angeles steel company, Calcor Corps., and knew about Wexler's steel schools. He approached him in 1958 with another idea the company was developing - steel houses. "I came by with as big a sample of a wall system as I could carry," Perlin remembers. The system used light-gauge structural steel and prefabricated panels and roofing. U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel helped fund the project, hoping to develop new markets for their products. In the early 1960s, for the developers George and Robert Alexander, Wexler and his engineer, Bernard Perlin, designed a neighborhood of 38 flat- or folded-roofed all-steel homes at the edge of Palm Springs. Seven were built, and seven remain, a monument to a time that dreamed of steel, and pleasant places to live. They began by building a house for Perlin, on a hillside site in Los Angeles that today overlooks the Getty Museum. "For my house, I even went beyond overboard," he says. "The insides of the walls are steel. There's nothing that's not steel in our house other than the cabinets." Perlin still lives there. "It's relatively maintenance free," he says. "I painted it twice."


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