If you want to read just one book that explains the midcentury modern mindset in the California desert communities, get "William Krisel's Palm Springs: The Language of Modernism" (Gibbs Smith, $45).
The 224-page, hardcover book contains a collection of intelligent essays by historians, architects and modernism appreciators accompanied by 200 photos and dozens of architectural drawings that capture the era's optimism and embrace of revolutionary housing.
Surprisingly, this book, edited by Heidi Creighton and Chris Menrad, is the first major monograph on William Krisel, the busiest architect during the Coachella Valley's boom years of the 1950s and 1960s.
Krisel's timeless, modernist approach to design, reproduced in more than 30,000 tract homes, condos and custom residences throughout Southern California and 10,000 living units elsewhere, progressed the style of low-profile dwellings that relied on nature's landscape as much as walls and glass to set an aesthetic.
In his pioneering developments in the desert 100 miles east of Los Angeles, Krisel worked closely with builders, especially the influential Alexander Construction Co., to produce high-quality tract homes that were affordable, popular and quicker to build than most post-and-beam structures.
Construction costs and time were reduced by employing assembly-line techniques and installing prefabricated doors, windows and modular kitchens and baths.
Cool vacation homes with oh-so-inviting pools in the first phase of Krisel's Sandpiper development in Palm Desert quickly sold for about $20,000 in 1958, despite a recession, the remote location and triple-digit temperatures.
Star architects Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Donald Wexler executed their vision here, too. What's Krisel's enduring appeal?
If you like desert midcentury modern – as do thousands of people who attend the annual Palm Springs Modernism Week, which ended Sunday, or who go on modern home tours during the year – you're a fan of projects by the respected Palmer & Krisel architectural firm.
During Modernism Week, a street was renamed William Krisel Way in the Twin Palms neighborhood near the architect's first desert design, the Ocotillo Lodge.
Talented, tasteful and practical, Krisel, now 91, controlled the look of his tract houses from curb to backyard. As detailed in the book, he served as the architect, urban planner and landscape architect on his projects.
He decided the way each house would sit on its lot as well as the paint colors, and he designed interior room dividers that could be moved to close off floor space for privacy.
Landscaping was a continuation of his architectural axiom.
From the street, passersby of Krisel's projects saw front lawns with rectangular rock beds, round stepping stones and and sometimes, sharp-angled concrete steps. His signature twin palm trees directed eyes to roofs – whether flat, slightly pitched or angled like butterfly wings – that mirrored the mountains or sky.
Clerestory windows hinted at the great use of glass inside, where see-through sliding doors continued the modernism approach of erasing indoor and outdoor boundaries.
Most striking was the beautiful way he lured what could be a real estate negative: the harsh desert sun. Krisel orchestrated shadows to accent the patterns he applied to what could have been bland block walls, screens, doors, overhangs, sun flaps, terraced steps and plantings, and he choreographed light and air to dance in interior spaces.
Features we take for granted now like glass walls and doors frame in metal, had to be promoted by capable designers and builders when introduced, otherwise the features could look commercial and off putting, like an office.
How to make glass and metal feel homey? Flip through "William Krisel's Palm Springs" and see how it was done.