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At 605 East Sunny Dunes Road, this planned mid-rise building’s appearance follows design tenets of a renowned mid- 20th Century architectural movement, and will be a “New Exemplar of the Distinguished Heritage of Mid-century Modernist International Style.” The minimalist structure draws inspiration from landmarks of modernism, including Mies van der Rohe’s Edith Farnsworth House (1945-51, Plano, IL), S.R. Crown Hall (1956, Chicago), and Seagram Building (1958, NYC), Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1949, New Canaan, CT), and the Albert Frey and Lawrence Kocher-designed Kocher-Samson Building in Palm Springs’s (1934-35), the renowned first modernist building in the city. Like the proposed building, Kocher-Samson has cantilevered volumes comprised of an office with an upstairs apartment and has been called “probably the most pure and at the same time workable example of the International Style in Southern California” – the building that launched Modernism in Palm Springs.  (text continues below)


In homage to these distinguished works of International Style, 605 East Sunny Dunes extends the glass curtain wall program and floor height of the distinctive modernist building it will abut: 577 E Sunny Dunes, noted architect Howard Lapham’s design (1950), renovated in 2021 by architect James Cioffi. This creates a harmonious, beautiful arrangement of two structures that will have been built over seven decades apart. 


Lapham’s architectural heritage may be reviewed at:


Supporting the Minimalist massing scheme, cool white colors are used across all flat and textured CMU walls. The three units, well-defined for their particular purposes, relate to one another in a unified composition with a pleasing general effect. Nighttime interior illumination and a light touch with exterior illumination shows off the curtain walls’ transparency that is central to the look of the structure.


The rectangular 2nd floor mass (for a fine art gallery or spectacular offices/retail) rests partly on the 1st floor supporting mass and partly floats over the vehicle passage, the opening of which contributes to lightening a structure that spans the entire lot’s hundred-foot length while allowing parking to be situated out of sight. Defining the vehicle passageway, a grace note has been designed into the support wall on the east boundary. This partially-folded V-shaped masonry wall faced with sculpted brick lends a jaunty touch while supporting the “floating” gallery mass. In the interstice created by the “V” along the east lot line, tall desert plants are dramatic specimens.

The open, expansive, minimalist International Style design stresses flexibility of planning and interspace relationships so that Tenant Improvements can be easily achieved, and just as easily unwound. Retail and office occupants will amplify their top-tier reputation in a sparkling building of exquisite quality and style. 


Throughout, the design is restrained. Massing is executed within a minimalist ethos. There is a simplicity and delicacy of framing. It is a current retelling of classic International Style buildings that embraced and celebrated their structures and minimalist geometries, rather than camouflaging them. Lightness and buoyancy are created by uncluttered interior spaces, material colors (varyied shades of white with color-block or glass doorways), and glass curtain walls that reflect the mountains and desert sky by day and glow warmly from within by night. Its presence will contribute emphatically to the appeal and vitality of the burgeoning commercial destination of Sunny Dunes Road in Palms Springs’s “Downtown South” also known as the “Sunny Dunes Antique and Art District.”   (continued next column)


The owner/caretaker apartment on the 2nd floor has a perpendicular orientation to the rest of the structure and has particularly fine views from both levels. It has balconies on the south and west sides. The private 2nd floor stairway (not open to the public as it is wholly inside the residential area) opens out onto a breathtaking rooftop deck. Commercial tenants will benefit from the on-site owner’s stake in maintaining the building in pristine condition.

Instead of the brushed-aluminum color or anodized black typical of most commercial glazing frames, the white color is specified for window frames, mullions, and muntins. This enhances the lightness of the overall composition and deliberately matches the white-painted muntins of the Howard Lapham building next door. The pattern of contrasting color paving bricks in the parking lot follows a 17th Century English knot garden design, bringing a nearly four century old Stuart-era motif that holds significance to the owner into the plan of a modernist building that, interestingly, exhibits similar rectangular massing and scale to the period manor house.


Materials and Technology for a Harsh Environment: This building is not just an exercise in resurrecting the past. Up to date sustainability elements (double glazing, insulation, efficient mechanicals, solar power generation etc.) address the demands of the strong sun and desert climate that rigorously test International Style aesthetics. The curtain walls require particularly robust solutions to mitigate heat gain and glare. To follow Minimalist principles eschewing attached ornamentation, the owner has elected not to use Brise Soleil (sun screens) that would obstruct mountain views.  Instead, 605 Sunny Dunes’s south and west elevation glazing will be meaningfully shaded with 4’ overhangs of the covered balconies so that far views across to the San Jacinto Mountains are unobstructed. Computer modeling indicates that in summer, direct sun through south-facing curtain walls will be countered by the overhangs. In spring, autumn and winter, direct sun will be mitigated by other characteristics of the glazing: insulated glass, coatings, tinting, etc., and internal drapes.  A robust HVAC system powered primarily by solar panels occupies much of the roof. Light entering the north-facing curtain wall will primarily be ambient or reflected. Visual glare is overcome by interior full floor-to-ceiling theatrical scrims and blackout drapes.


A note on the relationship to other modernist structures nearby: The building across the street to the east, housing Townie Bagel, is by Donald Wexler, architect of the Palm Springs Airport. Directly across the street is Howard Lapham’s long façade building with colorful opaque enamel spandrel panels typical of Mid-Mod commercial architecture, which housed offices of noted architects including Hugh Kaptur and Richard Harrison. At the corner to the west is another similarly styled commercial building by Howard Lapham, and at the street's south-east corner is a small gem of a glass curtain-walled building by the iconic modernists of Palm Springs, the celebrated Albert Frey and his renowned architectural partner John Porter Clark. (Frey is the subject of a retrospective exhibition taking over the entire Architecture & Design Center of the Palm Springs Art Museum from January - August, 2024.)


The proposed building at 605 East Sunny Dunes will pull all these into a cohesive grouping of modernist presences that will surely be a destination for architecture and design enthusiasts, and other style-seekers.

            ~Jim Landé


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