When an adventurer’s world collides with an architecture’s world…..
The inspiration of my first adventure of 2023 came from a short story: About four years ago, a talented architect in Florida I knew visited The Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, His photo always stays in mind. Now, I think it is the right time to visit and witness the architect masterwork in person.
I started my adventure from San Diego – Palm Springs – Joshua Tree, ending in San Diego. At the beginning, I did not have a clear vision of this adventure, but as usual, my adventurous soul helped me to create and accomplish a meaningful adventure.
Your home, your rules: A very Jonathan Adler place
When I drove to Palm Springs from San Diego, I experienced fast-changing weather along the road: heavy rain – freezing rain – snow – drizzle, and suddenly the mountains and road covered in white snow appeared before me. As I approached Palm Springs, palm trees, sunshine and blue sky appeared, the whole luxurious environment featured a mid-century modern design but I felt a comfortable, understated charisma. This was my first impression of Palm Springs.
I stayed at the Parker Palm Springs, a luxurious boutique hotel with 144 rooms, renovated and designed by the famous American potter and interior designer Jonathan Adler. Wandering through stunning mid-century modern design, I felt lost in the most elegant way, my mind emptied of thought, as though I was on a warm date with this beautiful garden and room, relaxing on the bed.
It is a classic Jonathan Adler place, every detail from the outdoor garden and pool, to the lobby, sculpture, pottery, furniture, mirrors, pillows and lighting, even subtle art collections, delivering his signature elements, vision and unique aesthetic: bright, bold, fun, colorful, chic and irreverent luxury. He keeps the spirit of the iconic Parker Palm Springs alive.
I was like a curious kid, playful and joyful with his design within his “playground”. I found a massive bronze banana sculpture located on the main lawn, discovering a magical door covered by the lush landscape. It seems a new world behind the door was waiting for me. I visited a lemonade stand and the sunny feeling ran in my veins. I found different “hidden” doors that seemed to tell me that another bold and free-spirited fantasy home is approachable. Tall palm trees stand in every corner, exceptionally placed.
I dreamt and wondered deeply in his cheeky and cheery fashion. The sexy lip wall art combines with the yellow palm trees; the horror movie “The shining” carpet in the lobby quickly caught my eyes.
I looked closer at each accessory: the giant purple acrylic foot, dora maar vase, utopia tamer vase and others, even the pottery just stands alone, but they have perfectly delivered the unique juxtaposition of luxurious and cheeky irreverence, unparalleled.
A vivid picture of my spacious bedroom still remains deep in my memory: custom made needlepoint pillows in shades of blue, evocative of the sea, perched on a striking red cotton canvas chair in a corner, the canopy frame bed in the center along with lamps and two art pieces literally facing each other on opposite walls. I was transported to a mid-century modern home, and roaming in the comfort, I did not feel stress, even in such a fancy place.
Outside the window are hammocks slung between palm trees. In the quiet, I slept deeply.
Staying at Parker Palm Springs, I glimpsed Jonathan Adler’s happy, carefree eye, and it instilled pleasure within me. I sensed his freedom and bold work, and fully appreciated the property’s natural charms. It is similar in style with Adler and his husband Simon Doonan’s home in Shelter Island, N.Y., with each subtle detail. Adler finds a perfect balance between bold and comfort, groovy and chic, bringing a valuable design vision of minimalism, both transformative and transitional.
How will you decorate your home? I think, be yourself, be very bold to dance with your rules, let the fun in.
I continued to explore Palm Springs, CA, one of the largest concentrations of preserved mid-century modern architecture in the world. I witnessed different luxurious houses there. I really wanted to open every unique and extraordinary door, to gaze the story and life behind them.
Into the Frey
My mind suddenly wants to see the residence of modernist architect Albert Frey, Frey House II. I did not buy a ticket online in advance, and all tickets on site were sold out already, and it was the last day of Frey House at the modernism week 2023 in Palm Springs. I thought I missed this rare opportunity and was going to leave, then from the back a stranger asked me loudly, and ran in front of me, and said “I could offer a ticket to you. I have one more ticket.” I felt so surprised and appreciated his kindness so much. It was unreal, but really happened for me.
We took a shuttle van to Frey House II, located up the San Jacinto Mountain. The house looks across the expanse of the Coachella Valley. The huge palm tree next to the house is exceptionally shining.
I walked up the stairs, and a small and streel frame with large spans of glass, but functional house appeared, measuring only 800 square feet. The design included a flat corrugated aluminum roof, and a swimming pool and small deck serving as the roof of the carport in front of the house.
I sat in his living room, all wall glass doors open interior to the exterior. Wow! Facing the endless astounding views of Palm Springs along wind blaze, I expect the summer sun would be blocked by the house perfectly.
The most impressive part of the house is the incorporation of a large boulder into the design, it serves as the home’s natural partition between the sleeping space and living room. The yellow color of the curtains and blue ceiling gives a sense of relieve from the heat, a fresh feel in the desert.
When I stayed at Frey House, I saw Frey’s design concept: natural surroundings and economy of materials as integral components, it is minimal and void of clutter. His work shows me architectural concept: Less is more! I appreciated the surprise I got from the “universe” and stranger, and had a unique experience to witness Frey’s design vision.
Local designers’ visual eyes for design
In this adventure, I revisited Joshua Tree, too. I choose to stay at a small space but one that had full amenities and features. It was designed by a local young couple who are designers with a deep-seated desire to create. As I entered the space, the custom-made wall art and in floor planter greeted me. My eyes were drawn to the seating area with a sofa and two large floor poufs with bohemian wall art and accessory along the sunlight, the shadow around the cactus and plants made this home special. The sleeping space faces the floor windows to provide a stunning desert view.
Even though this was my second time at Joshua Tree, I got a deeper understanding of it. I revisited Joshua Tree National Park and Salvation Mountain, also explored new places, such as the integration – a meditation place of sound bath, Twentynine Palms, etc. I saw the word LOVE appeared in many areas and found a connection with God’s love and spirit, and tried to understand why Joshua Tree is a place with powerful energy vortexes. The next time you are at a place, try to explore its surroundings, too, to help you to understand a place more deeply. It is one part of an adventure.
After a long day adventure, I relaxed in the outdoor bathtub with hot water around a strong wind and cute cactus at this semi-remote and empty desert, till the sun went down. I sat on the sofa, facing the custom-made concrete countertops and a SMEG fridge, feeling so cozy and comfort at night.
I took a glimpse into the local designers’ desert life and their great visual eye for art, they built the connection between the creative aspects of design and home life perfectly. We might learn from their design vision: think of making a good balance between nature and art, fully immerse yourself in the wonder of the place.
The Salk Institute, an architecture masterwork
Finally, I visited Jonas Salk and Louis I. Kahn’s The Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, that impressive photo in my mind of the reality in front of me. I stood in a grand travertine central courtyard to observe two mirror-image rectangular buildings, each six stories tall, with alternating levels of laboratory and utility space. I felt so tiny in this specular architecture with industrial influence. Each laboratory block’s interior façade is home to five study towers, providing study space for senior faculty with views of the Pacific Ocean and courtyard. In the west end are six floors of offices overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I found Louis Kahn’s bold design for a housing breakthrough by using materials concrete, teak, lead, glass, and steel, that could last for generations with minimal maintenance. I looked closer to the “pozzolanic” concrete. Wow! Its texture and smooth and marble like surface impressed me, even after more than 50 years, they still look so “fresh”. Whether it is natural materials teak, gray ash, oak or artificial materials glass, stainless steel and concrete, under the La Jolla’s sunlight, air and rain, they are integrated into the whole, showing their own structural symbolism, the philosophy of its science and building is reflected in their structure.
The sunlight reflects on the concrete walls, a pinkish hue. I stood in the center of the towers, natural light entered the buildings, multiple concrete walls from different angles reveal an amazing play of light and shadows; sometimes, the shadows are at a 45-degree angle to the towers themselves, the blue sky and ocean “connected” to the towers.
Through these beautiful details, I admire Salk’s vision and Kahn’s design sense: a perfect combination of space, materials, color, nature, light, art and science.
I gazed at the Pacific Ocean and sky, and two buildings with a spacious open courtyard become one with nature. I kept walking and observing each subtle detail, and felt like I was in the 1960s, connecting the footprint of Salk – a inspiration, imagination, and bold innovation of practical science research center. An adventure and world of architecture met and sparked at that moment.
When I left The Salk Institute, I had a full vision of this adventure: it was an architecture and design adventure. I witnessed different well-known architects’ and designers’ projects, every work delivering their design visions and style individually. An adventurer entered the architecture world to experience their design adventures and perspectives. I am not a professional architect/designer, my taste might be different from others, but how does one define good taste of a project? I think not to be concerned with defining good or bad taste, they might not exist: design itself is an interesting adventure, including intuition and skill set. An impressive work should combine a designer’s vision and human need, when people can find a connection with the designers, get into both worlds and vision, like we learn to complete a beautiful dance with the right partner.
Sometimes, when our world collides with another’s world, it might create a new element of life and design. Hey, I bring together nature, art, architecture and adventure this time, not only an adventure!