A Peek Inside Palm Springs’s Most Exclusive Architectural Community
A sprawling modernist architectural vision takes form high above the city.
Even the gatehouse at Desert Palisades is beautiful. With a dramatic cantilevered roof of patinated Corten Steel and surrounded by desert boulders, the structure at the entrance to Palm Springs ‘ newest residential development looks like it was formed by tectonic forces, glaciers, and time—or built by an alien civilization with excellent taste. Like much of Desert Palisades, despite being new, it looks like it’s been there forever. This small structure, which also serves as a community mailroom, is a signifier of the intention of the development, placing itself in the short but impressive timeline of the man-made topography of Palm Springs. Minimalist. Grand but quiet. And very intentionally modernist.
Eighteen years in the making, Desert Palisades is perched high above the Coachella Valley on the last view lot in the city. There are grand views of the San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and Chocolate Mountains. The landscape is strewn with boulders , which of course have been placed very precisely. It feels both serene and remote but is only minutes from downtown.
In a city known for modernist enclaves, this is the most architecturally significant new development in the city. You will find no Spanish revival homes here, or references to Tudor, or even a boxy McMansion, thanks to an internal architecture review board that re-examines all plans that have already gone through Palm Springs’ rigorous vetting process.
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Developer Ed Freeman always wanted Desert Palisades to be a showcase of modernist desert architecture. He joined forces with local Realtor Marc Sanders , and the two made a wish list of architects they wanted involved in the project. They intentionally put half the number of approved lots on the site, creating space between homes in a city not exactly known for it. “It has the topography and remoteness of Joshua Tree but the convenience of Palm Springs,” says Sanders. “You’re not allowed to build a wall or plant palm trees, and you must use native plants . When you clear your pad, you need to return as many boulders back to the property as possible.”
Their anchor project was a stunning house by architect Ray Kappe that set the tone for the projects that have followed, all of which channel the mid-century modernist roots of the architecture of Palm Springs but are also wholly contemporary. Join us on a tour of where the latest chapter in the evolution of Palm Spring is being written, home by home.
The Last Kappe House
Designed by Ray Kappe, the visionary architect who helped found the prestigious Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and who designed dozens of post and beam houses throughout Southern California, this multi-level home is his last commission and one of the grandest expressions of his warm modernism.
The Lost Wexler
Donald Wexler —the architect behind the Dinah Shore House, Palm Springs International Airport, and the pioneering all-steel Alexander houses—is on the short list of modernist masters who defined the look of Palm Springs. Commissioned before his death in 2011, this is the last Wexler that will ever be built.
The Houses of Studio AR&D
In addition to setting the tone for the development with the dramatic gatehouse, architecture firm Studio AR&D is designing nearly a dozen homes in Desert Palisades and exploring the desert palette of material, site specificity, landscaping , and the framing of views.