Tuesday, September 25, 2012

usc and modernism: william krisel

Who knew the USC architectural school was a critical driving force in modernism in Southern California? It stands to reason, as the university is famous for far more than its football team and **ahem** MBA program. USC is well known in the creative endeavors like music, film, drama, and architecture. A fellow patron of mid-century modern architecture, Ron Hudson, pointed out this article in the August 2012 USC alumni magazine, USC Trojan Family, Modernism for the Masses.

William Krisel Twin Palms Estates
Home by Modern architect William Krisel '49.
Twin Palms Estates in Palm Springs, California.
Picture of Krisel's wife, Corrine, and photo take by famed architectural
photographer Julius Shulman as seen in Trojan Family magazine.

The article explains that the big-name architects couldn't really bring modernism to the masses. USC-trained architect, William Krisel '49 including the late Edward Fickett '37, made their names by working on mass-produced housing required after World War II. Both Krisel and Fickett, never received the recognition of other USC-affiliated architects like Pierre Koenig, A. Quicey Jones and Richard Neutra, because they worked on larger scale housing tracts for developers.

Photo by James Schnepf

Declared, artist Michael Stern, curator and writer of a 2008 exhibition and book on architectural photographer Julius Shulman,
“What Bill Krisel did was bring Modernism to the masses. Krisel packed excellent architecture into houses of modest size, made of modest materials, and he did it on a very thin dime.”
I love Krisel's Twin Palms home. Dwell magazine featured a slide show of Krisel's more famous works in  2009.

William Krisel Twin Palms Estates
Twin Palms Estate by William Krisel

William Krisel Twin Palms Estates
Twin Palms by Willliam Krisel

Read Krisel's comments about mass 50's housing tracts, for the Trojan Magazine article:
At the time, he said, the American Institute of Architects frowned on mass-produced housing, considering the work “not prestigious enough. But I wanted to do a small house that had the feel of a bigger house,” Krisel said. “I wanted people to walk into a house and say, ‘How many square feet? 1,500?’ And I’d say, ‘No, 900.’ ” Square footage doesn’t matter, Krisel continued. “Volume and architecture make a space feel like it feels.”
William Krisel Twin Palms Estates
Drawings for Twin Palms by William Krisel

Timothy Melendez has collected some amazing examples of William Krisel work on Pinterest. Click through and enjoy.

William Krisel brick work
Bill Krisel is known for brick work like this.
From Tojan Family article.

Both Krisel's and Fickett's work are undergoing somewhat of a renaissance as their homes are still affordable and are quintessential mid-century. (And, how often can you throw a word like quintessential into a sentence?)

I leave you with these last words from the Trojan article, explaining why modern architecture and design are still going strong after their inception in the 40's and 50's:
“Modernism is not a style, it’s a language,” Krisel declared. “And languages don’t die out; they adapt.”

Modernism for the Masses, by Allison Engel, Autumn 2012, USC Trojan Family.

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  1. So many famous architects and landscape architects have either graduated from USC or taught there...teachers like Gregory Ain and Garrett Eckbo and graduates such as Frank Gehry, Raphael Soriano and Konig. You alumni should be extremely proud.

    I wasn't familiar with Krisel, but I definitely want to read more about him now.

    1. I am very proud! USC was lucky because it was centered in the heart of the modernism movement, so its architecture school drove the movement as it, itself, was being driven. Complimentary push/pull. The results, as we know now, were fabulous!

  2. And did you notice the spare landscaping using cacti and succulents--very similar to what you recently planted.

    1. Yes, I did notice! When researching landscape ideas, I pulled down a lot of pictures off the web of what the architects were doing back in the day. They really were ahead of their time. We now know that watering a lawn in Southern California will really cost you (time/money).


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