Steel Development House Restoration

 

The Wexler and Harrison designed Steel Development House Program was an experiment in pre-fabricated light gauge metal construction for the residential market. In 1961, with developer Bob Alexander and engineer Bernard Perlin, the architects established a steel house prototype with one interchangeable/flexible 1,600 SF floor plan with 3-roof options. The program started with 3 homes, one of each roof. With the successful sale of the three, 54 more were planned; however, due to the cost of fabrication and changes in manufacturing leadership, only 7 total homes were built.

 

During the 1970's, the Steel Homes—unlike the neighboring wood framed tract homes—started on a trajectory of unsympathetic additions, and remodels; in some cases, partial demolition occurred. In the early 2000's, the 7 homes, and Palm Springs in general, began to experience renewed interest in mid-century modern architecture and cultural tourism. As a result, by 2012, six of the seven homes would receive various levels of restoration and the Steel Homes became a "must see" for any architectural tourist. 

 

Today the Steel Development Houses are enduring statements of effective post war pre-fabrication, and are widely identified as the iconic symbol of mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs.  All seven homes have been given Class 1 Historic Designations by the city, and one is on the National Historic Register. The home our team would restore, would be the final home to receive much needed intervention. What's more, with the home’s most iconic "folded plate" roof and prominent corner "gateway" location, a very high bar was set and much anticipated.

 

Working with Don Wexler, FAIA, and a set of original plans and shop drawings, our team systematically catalogued all changes to the original plan and grounds.  We then undertook selective demolition to identify if key structural components were buried under remodels or completely removed.  The greatest effort was to simply remove years of indifferent additions, including a bonus room with full bath and laundry where the carport once was, an expanded entry, fireplace, storage sheds, and overgrown yards.  Restoration of the light gauge steel frame and cladding was very straightforward; our team would come to think of the restoration’s work as more like restoring a fine automobile, than a house.

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