“The sun, the pure air, and the simple forms of desert create perfect conditions for architecture”

– Architect Albert Frey 

Albert Frey- 15 Iconic Projects
Albert Frey ©SoEdited

Albert Frey (1903-1998) was a famous mid-century architect. The Swiss-born architect established a style of modern architecture in Palm Springs, California, United States, that flourished as ‘Desert Modernism’. Frey received his architecture diploma in 1924 from the Institute of Technology in Switzerland. 

He worked under architect Le Corbusier, who was also his inspiration. Frey’s designs were simple yet beautiful. He had great concern for nature and surroundings. His buildings seamlessly merged with the surroundings, like they have been in harmony since the beginning of the time. He partnered with local architects, Robson Chambers and A. Lawrence Kocher in various projects. 

Frey’s style of architecture was marked by its sleek lines, earthy colors, and outside-inside design. Most of his designs have survived the harsh weather conditions of the desert and define the legacy of Frey. He gave a new dimension to the architecture of Palm Springs with his imagination and design.

Below is the list of 15 Projects by Albert Frey:

1. FREY HOUSE II

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1964
Size: 800 Sq. ft.

The Frey House II was the architect’s long time residence perched on the hillside at the west end of the Canyon way. It took Frey five years to select the site and nearly a year to survey the contours, the rocks, and the sun movement. He did not move any rock; instead, he incorporated them into his design. A large boulder is beautifully used in the design and can be seen in the living area of the house. To him, the dramatic blending of natural rock with high tech materials was very exciting.

This 800 sq ft. compact yet functional house sits on a concrete block podium. The structure is made in steel with large glass openings and corrugated metal sloping roofs. The aluminum roof overhangs block the harsh summer sun.

The house opens to a swimming pool deck on the front, which also acts as a roof of the carport below. Outdoor furniture is mostly fixed, made in concrete or on-site rocks. The lower level of the house features a sitting area, a master bedroom, and a kitchen, while the upper level includes a dining table which doubled as Frey’s workspace and a bathroom. Later in 1967, a guest room, measuring 300 sq. ft., was added to the house. The flooring is in concrete, with a hue of the surrounding rocks and the ceiling is painted aqua blue, resembling the sky. The curtains match the color of yellow Ancilla flowers that bloom each spring in the desert.

Alfred always acknowledged his role with nature; his designs witnessed a harmony between the built and the un-built.

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View © www.psmuseum.com
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View © www.psmuseum.com
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Large boulder incorporated © www.psmuseum.com
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Living Area © www.psmuseum.com
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House Plan © www.psmuseum.com
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Section © www.psmuseum.com

2. MONKEY TREE HOTEL 

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1960
Size: 1 Acre

This Frey’s creation is a beautiful congruence of nature and architecture and gives a cozy feel to the residents. The building is a single-story structure operating as a boutique hotel is nestled against the backdrop of the gorgeous San Jacinto Mountains. The 16 rooms with a 

Slanting roof is designed overlooking a central swimming pool. Each room has a private open to sky bathroom, enclosed by stone walls.

The structure is built in metal and is painted white; the flooring is in concrete while the exterior walls are in stone. The amalgamation of the blue pool, yellow umbrellas, yellow walls, and lush green grass make this hotel perfect for weekend getaways. The interiors are of the Scandinavian theme with a touch of white, blue, and yellow.

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Evening view of the hotel with mountains ©www.booking.com
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Central pool ©www.booking.com
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Entrance gate, stone wall ©www.booking.com
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Scandivian interiors © www.booking.com

3. ALUMINAIRE HOUSE

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1931
Size: 1200 Sq. ft.

The Aluminaire was the result of a case study experiment by architect Albert Frey and architect A. Lawrence Kocher. It was a pre-fab three-story house, made of metal in just ten days. It was also the first all-metal house in the U.S. and was exhibited in the Architecture and Allied Arts Exhibition in New York. The house was greatly inspired by the principles of Le Corbusier, viz pilotis, ribbon windows, open plan, and the use of terraces.

The three-story house was a cube resting on six columns of 13 cm diameter and had five rooms. The ground floor served as a garage and had a compartment for a boiler. The open porch gave access to a ladder.  The first floor had a living room with double height, a dining room, a master bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The second floor housed a library, a spacious bathroom, and an open terrace for activities.

The façade was a combination of aluminum panels and glass windows. The door and window frames were in steel and the flooring was in pressed steel and black linoleum.

The Aluminaire House now sits on a vacant plot in Palm Springs.

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View ©www.interior design.net
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Steel frame ©www.interior design.net

4. KOCHER-SAMSON BUILDING

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1934

Designed by architect Albert Frey and architect A. Lawrence Kocher, the Kocher-Samson Building was Palm Spring’s first modernist international style building. It was designed to accommodate offices on the ground and first floor, and a small apartment on the second floor. The concept of mass and void was used in various spaces. The commercial space consisted of two offices located on either side of an external corridor. A spiral staircase led from the upper floors. A large living terrace was projected on the north side of the living room.

The house has a flat roof, plain glass windows in steel frame and stucco finish. The partition walls could be slid to divide the interior spaces into various rooms. The interior atrium which had a spiral staircase was also a beautiful light well.

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View © www.ipining.com
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Front View © www.modtraveler.com
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Interior View © www.palmspringscc.com

5. CREE HOUSE II

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1955
Size:  1124 Sq. ft.

The Cree House is a simple, single-story two-bedroom structure. This 1124 sq.ft. house sits on an 8.2-acre hillside. The house is supported by thin steel columns, called pilotis, and appears to float over the rugged mountain backdrop. A spacious 600 sq.ft. deck, covered with yellow fiberglass siding, perfectly contrasts with the Encelia-green asbestos cement sheet on the façade. Built on the rocky desert, this house has large sliding glass doors and windows which provide ample panoramic views of nature around. The interior of the house is vintage and reflects a successful attempt of the inside-outside concept. The fireplace in the living room features a native rock plucked from the site, which also exhibits the wise use of vernacular materials. The Cree House brings a sense of the surroundings inside the home.

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Stone wall above fireplace © www.palmspringslife.org
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Interior View © www.palmspringscc.com
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The deck © www.palmspringslife.org

6. FREY HOUSE I

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1940
Size:   320 Sq. ft.

Frey house I was a project wherein Frey used an experimental and a minimalistic approach. He tried out numerous building and designing techniques. This house was built as a small 16ft x 20ft rectangle, with corrugated metal walls and roof, but was later on expanded to accommodate a swimming pool and a guest bedroom.

The Exterior façade of the house was cladded in metal, with full-length glass windows protected from the sun by overhanging flat roof extended past the walls. The dining room had a table suspended from the ceiling. The second story has a unique circular footprint with porthole windows. The walls were projected outwards to create spaces within the landscape for activities. The house was conceived as a model for future mass-manufactured housing.

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View of pool and pothole windows ©www.flicker.com
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View of pool and pothole windows © www.flicker.com
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The suspended dining table ©www.dulcisdomus.tumblr.com

7. LOEWY HOUSE

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1946
Size:  600 Sq. ft.

The Loewy House is an iconic example of Frey’s style of minimalism. Designed as a bachelor’s pad, the house best suits cocktail parties. The Loewy House is an L-shaped structure built around a pool that extends into the living area. The amoeba-shaped pool is the centerpiece of the house. The pool resembles a blue lagoon in a desert oasis with a backdrop of Rocky Mountains at the far end.

The site of the structure was quite undulating, yet the house is designed so well that even the rock and the boulders have become an integral part of the design. One of the large boulders forms the support for the sliding glass door and emerges in the living room. The house incorporates a garden, living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a servant room. The rooms are small and the furnishing is simple. The house witnesses extensive use of glass, low-cost materials, corrugated metal, and concrete blocks. The semi-covered courtyard on the outside (also the landscape garden) has a steel and redwood trellis.

The house is of small and modest size but a generous effect.

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The pool and shaded courtyard ©www.themodernhouse.com
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Wooden trellis ©www.palmspringslife.com
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House plan ©www.hiddenarchitecture.com
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Sliding door resting on rock ©www.hiddenarchitecture.com

8. NORTH SHORE BEACH AND YACHT CLUB

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1959
Size:  6,500 Sq. ft.

The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club were visualized as a weekend picnic spot along the shore of the Salton Sea. The two-story building was designed in a nautical theme resembling a ship in the desert, with its prow and a mast. The second floor served a crow’s nest with porthole windows. The use of sand-color concrete blocks, corrugated metal sheets, and yellow fiberglass panels was a very practical approach by Frey. Bright nautical flags were displayed in the façade.

The club was forced to shut its doors due to an increase of vandalism and laid in an abandoned state for years. The club has been recently renovated and now used as a community center.

The yacht club was an architectural gem and looked mesmerizing at night. Its reflection on the seawater at night was a sight to the sore eyes.

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The pothole windows in elevation © www.flicker.com
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Exterior view © www.atomic-ranch.com
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The nautical flags © www.thejohnsontravel.com

9. TRAMWAY GAS STATION

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1965

Designed by architect Albert Frey and architect Robson Chambers, this ever buzzing gas station sits on a major highway in the Palm Springs. The huge wedge-shaped cantilever roof is the most iconic feature of the building that offers shade from the desert sun. 

The station has a circular footprint with large glass windows. The hyperbolic paraboloid canopy is made in corrugated aluminum. The walls are made in stone which is a naturally available material and matches the hues of the hills in the backdrop. Other materials used are readily available industrial products such as steel and concrete blocks. These materials not only reduced the construction cost and maintenance but also added texture to the building.

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The V shaped large roof ©www.deezen.com
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Exterior view ©www.deezen.com
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Exterior view ©www.deezen.com

10. PALM SPRINGS CITY HALL

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1952

The Palm Spring city hall building is very simple and seamlessly integrates into the surrounding terrain. The large canopy at the entrance foyer has a circular void in the roof, to make space for three tall palm trees to grow up through it. The landscape around the building includes trees and grassy lawns with flower beds along the walkway. The second entrance has a circular canopy as if it is cut out of the first entrance canopy. Both the canopies are built-in corrugated aluminium and painted aqua white. 

The exterior façade is plain in a light taupe hue the semi-enclosed courtyard are partially covered with aluminum Sheets and pergolas, which shade the building from the strong sunlight and also act as buffer spaces. The other important element in the façade is the metal sunscreen, called brise-soleil, which is a composition of the cylinders in a grid pattern. This adds aesthetics to the corridors and also forms beautiful shadow patterns.

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Front canopy with circular void © www.visitcalifornia.com
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Concrete podium © www.deezen.com
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Sunscreen in the corridor © www.deezen.com

11.TRAMWAY VALLEY STATION

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1963

A trip to Palm Springs would be incomplete without a ride up the tram. The tram car ascended 8000 feet vertically from the valley to the mountain. The tramway base station in the valley was designed by Architect Albert Frey and Architect Robson Chambers. The mountain station was built by Ar. E Stewart Williams.

The station was built to be quite energy-efficient and cost-cutting material was used in construction. The exterior façade had ribbed metal panels and exposed concrete blocks that coherently commingled with the desert backdrop. The building was a covered bridge with a tipped roof. The bridge was made in metal with exposed truss. The windows along the length took a triangular configuration resembling the stability of interlocking triangles of equal size. The building also housed a semi-covered cafeteria shaded with a tensile roof.

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Bridge with tipped roof © www.pstramway.com
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Triangular windows © www.wikiwand.com
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Aerial view ©www.pstramway.com

12. FREY-CLARK OFFICE BUILDING

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1950
Size: less than 1 acre

The Frey-Clark Office Building was a contemporary office building and a strong example of modern architecture in the era of its completion. The building was built on a corner plot with the ground floor as an office and the first floor used as an apartment. The building was designed in two rectangular volumes connected through a central courtyard. 

The court gave access to the building as well as the upper floors through a circular staircase. The exterior of the building was grey due to poured concrete; it had glass windows with long corrugated steel sloping overhangs as sun shields. The building was often described as ‘simple’ and ‘pure’ by the critics and the inhabitants.

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Corner plot with sloping overhangs © www.palmspringslife.com
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Grey colour facades with glass windows © www.palmspringslife.com

13. KOCHER CANVAS WEEKEND HOUSE

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1934
Size: 300 sq. ft.

Like the ‘Aluminaire House’ built in 1931, this house was also experimentation in low-cost building materials. The two-story built structure rested on steel columns. All the floors could be accessed by a circular metal staircase. The ground floor was used as a car park and outdoor play area. The main floor had a living room, kitchen, and bedroom, while the terrace was reserved for relaxation and lounging activities. 

The house was built in a redwood frame covered in cotton canvas, sealed against the weather; the large windows were protected with sloping metal overhangs. The flooring was in sealed canvas and the partition was done with plywood panels.

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House on stilts © www.gregs.org
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Garage and terrace © www.Jonasgrossmann.com
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Circular staircase © www.Nanouchkapod.tumbler.com

14. ROBSON CHAMBERS HOUSE

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1949
Size: 1757 sq. ft.

The Robson Chambers House was a two-story house built in two units with a kitchen, baths, and two bedrooms each. It had a kidney-shaped pool and a common carport. The central open courtyard served as a recreational space. The outdoor furniture was made in concrete and stone, while the indoors were simple and bright.

Frey’s signature full-length glass window and exposed materials were the key features of the house. In 1954, the house was published in “A Treasury of Contemporary Houses”, by the editors of Architectural Record.

ROBSON CHAMBERS HOUSE
View © www.palmspringsliving.com

15. VILLA HERMOSA

Location: Palm Springs, California
Year: 1940
Size: 2 Acre

Villa Hermosa was Frey’s first large scale project. The villa was built as a hotel with rented rooms and apartments. It was an indoor facing project, with a large landscaped courtyard. It consisted of a large central swimming pool with all the rooms facing inwards.

The landscape around the pool included tall palm trees, lawns, and flower beds. The walls were painted white and yellow contrasting to the green lawns. The staircase to the rooms on the first storey went up from the courtyard. The property had 21 apartments. Villa Hermosa was considered a luxury hotel in the mid-century.

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Lawn and exterior staircase © www.Pscondos.com
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Landscape © www.paulkaplanrealtor.com
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The pool and palm trees © www.paulkaplanrealtor.com
Neha Jaiswal
Author

Neha is an architect, learner, and a voracious reader. She loves to explore new places and experience the beauty, food, and people of different regions. She inclines research and experimentation and wishes to spread awareness through education. She believes in teaching minds, touching hearts, and transforming lives.

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