Celebrating the legacy of Albert Frey

The legacy of Albert Frey is a significant part of the architectural and cultural heritage of all who call Palm Springs their home. Palm Springs Art Museum is excited to focus on its newly expanded Albert Frey holdings in a multifaceted initiative that will include:

Swiss-born architect Albert Frey (1903-1998), arguably the most significant architect to have worked in the Palm Springs region of California, established the style of architecture that has become known as “desert modernism.”

Having trained with Le Corbusier amongst a group of international colleagues, Frey brought a European sensibility when he came to New York and began collaborating with the American architect A. Lawrence Kocher in 1930. Over a period of roughly five years, the two made significant contributions to the American modernist movement, including the creation in 1931 of Aluminaire House, the now iconic masterpiece of modernist design which has been recently donated to Palm Springs Art Museum and is part of our permanent collection.

Over a long and prolific career in Palm Springs, Frey produced more than 200 building designs, including such notable area landmarks as the Loewy House, the Aerial Tramway Valley Station (in collaboration with John Porter Clark), Palm Springs City Hall, Villa Hermosa in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood, and the Tramway Gas Station--now the Palm Springs Visitor Center. Frey was a founding benefactor, trustee, and board president of Palm Springs Art Museum, and bequeathed the museum his home, Frey House II (completed 1964), which sits on the hillside above Museum Drive.

He also left the museum his archive of drawings, papers, photographs, and other documents for study and exhibition. These original holdings, supplemented by donations from other sources and by the recent acquisition of Aluminaire House, enrich our understanding of Frey and represent the full spectrum of his career and legacy.

On September 3, 2020 the Aluminaire House Foundation announced that it had donated the historic Aluminaire House to Palm Springs Art Museum to be included in the museum’s permanent collection, joining Frey House II.

The historically significant aluminum and metal prototype residence, designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher in 1931, will soon be located outside on the grounds of the museum. The assembling of the structure is due to begin as early as late 2021.

Over the years, Frey House II has been remodeled to facilitate various uses and functions. These alterations shifted away from Frey’s original design. Research is currently under way to assess original plans and drawings, as well as contemporaneous photos from the Frey archive in the museum’s holdings to understand the original intention in terms of function and design of the expansion of Frey House II. Using this information, work will be done to restore the space to its original scheme using appropriate materials.

In addition to Frey House II, Albert Frey bequeathed the museum his archive of drawings, personal and working papers, photographs, scrapbooks and albums, and other documents. Over the years, materials from other sources have been added to the collection. The archive has formed the basis of many exhibitions and will be integral to the upcoming Frey exhibition. 

Although the archive is a great resource to museum curators and preliminary organizational work has been accomplished, the materials have yet to be properly or fully cataloged and digitized. Accomplishing this work will make the archive accessible to scholars, architects, and students, which was Frey’s intention as part of his bequest to the museum.

The Albert Frey Exhibition will be a major presentation of the architect’s career through the lens of his intrinsic European sensibility—which influenced his creation of a singularly unique style of desert modernism.

The exhibition will survey Frey’s work, including his lost and lesser-known (but laudable) endeavors and his more acclaimed projects, including the Aluminaire House. The goal of this exhibition is to feature the works that have been less celebrated alongside those that are already iconic.

The main body of the exhibition will be drawn from the museum’s archival holdings of drawings, renderings, photographs, film footage, and notes. Additional loans will be sought from key repositories, including the University of California Santa Barbara, Colonial Williamsburg, and various private lenders. Models will be commissioned to highlight key buildings and projects.

The exhibition is scheduled to open at Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion in late 2022/early 2023 and will run for approximately one year. It will be on view for Palm Springs Modernism Week in both 2023 and 2024.

A lavishly illustrated major publication will accompany the exhibition, co-published by Radius Books and Palm Springs Art Museum, and will include newly published images and texts.

Grand opening events to celebrate the Frey exhibition and book publication, the opening of the Aluminaire in its new location, and the reopening of the restored Frey House II addition will all be opportunities to engage an enthusiastic audience of art and architecture aficionados from across the region and beyond.

Because of the intensity of local interest in modern architecture generally and the work of Albert Frey specifically, the museum will be planning a range of engagement forums, dialogues, lectures and tours.

We need your help!

Palm Springs Art Museum seeks funding partners to help preserve this extraordinary community asset and make it accessible to the many visitors from across the globe who visit the museum and are drawn to the area because of the richness of its unique architectural legacy.

For sponsorship information, contact Michael Hinkle, mhinkle@psmuseum.org.