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What Would Albert Frey Do? The Value of Preservation and Good Design

Aluminaire House, designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher, 1931. Gift of the Aluminaire House Foundation in honor of Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani, 2020.22.

In April, MOCA+ began a two year journey with Palm Springs Art Museum to celebrate the legacy of Swiss born architect Albert Frey. Thanks to Frey, there is so much to celebrate in a desert where modernism took hold 90 years ago, inspiring Palm Springs to become the sandbox for many modern architects, designers and artists.

Frey's work transcended style and embraced new materials, and the technologies and techniques of his time, which is why he has become known as the father of desert modernism.

When Frey arrived in Palm Springs in 1934, he had already made notable contributions to modern architecture in the Paris office of Le Corbusier and in New York where in 1931 he partnered with Lawrence Kocher, an American architect, on the Aluminaire House. Aluminaire was first shown as part of the Architectural and Allied Arts Exhibition. Aluminaire, which is now in permanent residence at the Palm Springs Art Museum, has come to represent the American ideal of experimentation and the possibility of modernism. The house was built from aluminum and glass, and was intended to be mass-produced and affordable. It’s one of the earliest examples of prefab architecture.

Frey moved to Palm Springs to work on the design of an office building for the medical practice of Kocher’s brother, and became inspired by the colors and the intellectual milieu of this desert. His work transcended style and embraced new materials, and the technologies and techniques of his time, which is why he has become known as the father of desert modernism.

Over the weekend of May 22 and 23rd, MOCA+ worked with Palms Spring Museum to host an introduction to the exhibit on Frey’s work that formally opens in November 2022. This “First Look” began with a VIP event in which we showed a film by Jake Gorst entitled Albert Frey and Aluminaire House. It also included a presentation by Brad Dunning, the curator of the exhibition, tours of the Architecture and Design Center, a visit to Frey II, Frey’s most treasured asset and the legacy of Frey’s collection, and a dinner in the Elrod Sculpture Garden. Day two, we hosted a short take of the upcoming documentary of Case Study House #22 and a conversation about the new book, The Stahl House: Case Study House #22: The Making of a Modernist Icon, to be released by Chronicle Books this August, with Shari Stahl Gronwald, Bruce Stahl, and author Kim Cross.

As MOCA+ continues to create programs, events, tours and content, I find myself asking the question, “What would Albert do”? What I do know is that he would be discussing sustainable architecture and the new technologies such as 3D printed homes and the robotics that allow us to do so much more in the interest of creating homes for the masses. I also believe that he would implore us to engage the youngest in our society to value the lessons learned and create new buildings that are appropriate for our time and beyond.

Albert Frey (American, born Switzerland, 1903-1998), Frey House II, 1963-1964, addition 1970-1971, Collection Palm Springs Art Museum, Bequest of Albert Frey, 55-1999.1

Finally, he would hope that the sponsors of this celebration of his work would take the time to align their brands with his process and his curiosity. These focuses are what make me certain we will produce the finest, and certainly the longest celebration of Albert Frey, and forever emblazon his legacy in the hearts and minds of those who love good design.

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