May’s Architect of the Month: Donald Wexler

I have always admired the work of Donald Wexler (1926-2015), an architect known for his significant contributions to modernist architecture in the mid-20th century. Wexler was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1950 and moved to Palm Springs in 1952 to work for William Cody.

What I find most interesting and timeless about Wexler’s style is how he wanted to establish a harmonious relationship between the built environment and nature. Through his use of large windows, open floor plans, and natural materials, he aimed to bring the outdoors inside and create a seamless connection with the surrounding landscape.

His innovative designs transformed Palm Springs into a hub of modernist architectural vision. Wexler was the architect behind the iconic Dinah Shore House, which he designed in 1964. With floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, the estate looks onto the desert, the palm trees, and the magnificent San Jacinto Mountains. It’s one of the best examples of mid-century desert modernism in southern California. It continues to shape the city’s architectural character and attract modernism enthusiasts from around the world.

He revamped Palm Springs International Airport when he was just 37 years old, with no experience in designing airports. His goal was to streamline the arrival and departure areas and he spent months visiting other airports and consulting airlines to learn what passengers wanted. The new terminal buildings, which opened in 1966, were designed to form an X, allowing travelers to see everything from one central corridor.

Wexler also pioneered the use of steel construction and prefabrication techniques. His innovative designs for steel-framed homes, particularly the Alexander Steel Houses, brought a new level of efficiency, affordability, and modern aesthetics to residential architecture in the area. These prefabricated homes helped meet the growing demand for housing in Palm Springs during the post-World War II period.

The last Wexler ever to be built is a dwelling completed in 2018, which captures his unique aesthetic and his mastery of the mid-century style.

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