Modernity For Everyone
By Howard Bosler
The most interesting thing about William Krisel, besides his love for the butterfly roof, is his down to earth approach toward modern architecture. Since he has just recently passed away, I thought a look at Mr. Krisel is in order.
About Mr. Krisel
William Krisel was born in Shanghai, China in 1924. His father was the sole distributor of big Hollywood films from United Artists in Asia. Consequently, he grew up in a large house with servants. However, due to the outbreak of war with Japan, Krisel moved with his parents to Beverly Hills, California. Krisel at age 11 sketched up a design for his family to move into, whereupon his father forwarded the design to an architect. The architect replied back that he thought Krisel had talent and should consider becoming an architect.
After serving in World War II, Krisel attended the University of California, graduating in 1949. Krisel partnered with Dan Palmer to form Palmer and Krisel Architects, but he went on to collaborate with 7 of the biggest housing developers in the United States, especially Alexander Construction Company.
About the Alexanders he told the Times, The Alexanders’ “main interest was to make money and my interest was to do good design. In order for them to do my work, I had to come up with a design that was less expensive than the dingbats they were building.”
Practicality and Expense
He told NPR, “a 100 x 100 lot, all fenced-in, landscaped, modern design, air condition, swimming pool — all for $29,900.” His consideration in order to provide the public with modern design was to supply open floor plans and practical features that could be varied between construction so as to furnish a difference in look from house to house. He varied the rooflines, the setbacks, and color schemes, for instance. And, of course, he frequently used the butterfly roof to emphasize the non-traditional nature of his houses.
Success in Numbers
The number of Krisel houses built-in California, Arizona, Nevada is remarkable. It is estimated that up to 40,000 were built with his designs, mainly in Southern California.
“I’ve had a very happy and successful career and I’ve achieved what I set out to do: create housing for the masses that they could afford and that would change their way of living and make life more enjoyable.”
He also had great success in commercial architecture as well.
In February 2016 a street in Palm Springs was named after William Krisel.