William Krisel, Architect Who Found a Midcentury Niche, Dies at 92

William Krisel, Architect Who Found a Midcentury Niche, Dies at 92

- in Real Estate
8
0

By the late 1950s, he and his business partner, Dan Palmer, had gotten so good at coupling elegance with frugality that they were producing plans for seven of the nation’s 10 biggest homebuilders, Mr. Krisel once said.

“That’s significant because every big name in modern architecture at midcentury tried to crack into the mass-produced housing market,” Alan Hess, an architecture critic and historian, told The Los Angeles Times in 2008. “And they all failed. Palmer and Krisel, who weren’t at all well-known, solved the problem.”

In an interview with NPR last year, Mr. Krisel said, “I have had built, from my designs, over 40,000 living units, and that’s more than any other architect that I know of.”

A so-called Alexander house in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1957. The developer used Mr. Krisel’s designs.

Credit
Julius Shulman photography archive. The Getty Research Institute, 2004.R.10

Among those designs was a 5,500-square-foot, 4-bedroom, 5-bath 3-level home in Palm Springs that consisted of four concentric circles. Look magazine hailed it as the “House of Tomorrow,” and Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned there in 1967.

Mr. Krisel was born on Nov. 14, 1924, in Shanghai to Alexander and Celia Krisel. His father was a lawyer and distributor for United Artists films. The family returned to Southern California in 1937 as Japan launched an undeclared war on China.

Young Bill’s precociousness and early affinity for architecture, inspired by reading about Frank Lloyd Wright, were demonstrated that same year when, at 13, he wrote a letter to the editor of Time magazine critiquing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s rough plans for a five-room, one-story getaway next to his mother’s estate in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“Time applauds Student Krisel’s attempt but prefers Franklin Roosevelt’s own plans of his Hyde Park ‘dream house,’” the magazine’s editors replied, a little unsportingly, in a footnote accompanying Bill’s published letter.

“Some objections to the Krisel plan,” the editors said in their response: “The kitchen is too narrow, the pantry at the wrong end, windows badly spaced, partitions awkwardly arranged; and there is no way into the farther bedroom except through the nearer one.”

Unfazed, the young Mr. Krisel enrolled in the University of Southern California, whose architecture department was renowned for its expertise in modernism. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, he enlisted in the Army and, being fluent in Chinese, served as an interpreter for Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, the commander of American forces in China and Burma.

He resumed his studies after World War II and graduated in 1949 with an architecture degree. He was later certified as a landscape architect, too.

Mr. Krisel formed his partnership with Mr. Palmer in 1950. The two had met while working part-time for the architect Victor Gruen. They remained together until 1964, when they dissolved their partnership. Mr. Krisel continued to design private homes and high-rise residential and commercial buildings on his own.

Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, the former Corinne Jaffe; a daughter, Michelle Krisel; and six grandchildren.

A 5,500-square-foot Palm Springs home, which Look magazine called the “House of Tomorrow.” Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned there in 1967.

Credit
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge, via Getty Images

Mr. Krisel’s first big break came from Robert Alexander, a college classmate, whose father, George, was building conventional tract housing in the San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles. Bob persuaded his father to experiment with Mr. Krisel’s modern designs on 10 lots. The resulting houses sold faster than the traditional cookie-cutter models and were more profitable.

When the Alexanders moved to Palm Springs for health reasons, Mr. Krisel followed. He built 2,500 homes there, offering eight varieties by manipulating the interior floor plans, the patterns of the concrete-block walls and the color schemes. Buyers had a choice of four roofs: a butterfly, a long-gable, a folded-plate or a barrel-vault.

The houses ranged in price from under $20,000 for a 1,200-square-foot model to $39,000 for a 2,200-square-foot configuration in a tonier venue. (Those prices would be the equivalent of about $180,000 and $350,000 in today’s money.)

The houses came air-conditioned, fenced-in and equipped with a swimming pool. As befitting the name of the development, Twin Palms, each lot, regardless of price, came with exactly two palm trees.

“He never called Modernism a style,” said Chris Menrad, president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a preservation group. “For him, it was a language that he spoke to people in.”

Like most architects, Mr. Krisel preferred his independence. Unlike many of his colleagues, he largely achieved it by designing mostly for grateful developers, who embraced and replicated his aesthetically pleasing but cost-effective prototypes.

“Too many of our private customers worked against us,” he told The Boston Globe in 1957. “They made nightmares for themselves and for us. So now we build our own dream houses, and hope our customers have dreams to match.”

His brand of architecture has experienced a resurgence in recent years and found a new real estate market as homeowners have restored, remodeled and reproduced what became known as an Alexander house, after the developer.

But by the time the trend started Mr. Krisel had retired from a full-time practice and was consulting on, among other fields, forensic architecture, which focuses on rethinking flawed design in the aftermath of building failures.

Asked by Dwell magazine in 2015 whether any object changed the way he thought about design, Mr. Krisel replied: “I’ve always been told that the egg is something that can’t be improved upon. Giving it some thought, I agree.”

Continue reading the main story

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like

Part of Hudson Yards Tunnels Is Nearly Done. Now It Sits, Unused.

The building of the river tunnel hasn’t begun