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Aluminaire House

aluminaire house

The revolutionary Albert Frey-designed masterpiece.

By Randy Garner

Aluminaire House palm springs

The Aluminaire House Foundation donated the historic Aluminaire House to Palm Springs Art Museum to be part of the museum’s permanent collection. The historically significant aluminum and metal prototype residence is designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher in 1931. It will be reassembled with private funds raised by the Aluminaire House Foundation at some future date.

The house was purchased by the foundation in 2017 and brought to Palm Springs.  It is considered a masterpiece of modernist design, recently listed by Architectural Record as one of the most important buildings completed worldwide in the past 125 years. New York architects Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani worked diligently for more than 25 years to save, protect and document Aluminaire, and formed the Aluminaire House Foundation to locate a suitable permanent home for the structure. Once Aluminaire is reassembled, the full arc of Albert Frey’s career in America, from 1931 until his death in 1998 in Palm Springs, may be experienced in the city and at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Aluminaire House palm springs

Albert Frey Collection

The Aluminaire House is an excellent addition to the Art Museum’s robust Albert Frey collection, which also includes Frey House II (1963-64), the residence the architect lived in until his death in 1998. Frey’s connection with the museum dates back to its origin when his firm co-designed the original Palm Springs Desert Museum, and he served as a member and President of the Board of Trustees. Frey generously bequeathed his archive of drawings, personal and working papers, photographs, scrapbooks, and other documents—along with his Frey House II residence, which sits on the hillside above the museum.

Albert Frey is called the father of ‘Desert Modernism and brought International Style to Palm Springs and enjoyed acclaimed fame. In conjunction with the reassembly of The Aluminaire House, Palm Springs Art Museum is organizing a major Albert Frey exhibition for 2021-2022, which will be presented at the Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. It will be accompanied by a major publication that features archival materials from the museum’s collection, including a newly donated selection of Frey archival materials that will be presented and published for the first time.

The Aluminaire House History

In 1931, the Allied Arts and Industries and the Architectural League of New York unveiled the starkly modern, all metal ‘Aluminaire’ home, constructed mostly of aluminum and glass components, which inspired the name. It was intended to be mass-produced and affordable, using inexpensive, off-the-shelf materials. The Aluminaire house caught the attention of the public, so much that in just one week on exhibit, more than 100,000 visitors toured the home. The three-story house, assembled in just ten days, was designed by A. Lawrence Kocher, the managing editor of Architectural Record, and Albert Frey, then a 28-year-old Swiss architect who had recently immigrated to America after working in Paris for the great architect Le Corbusier. It was the first all-metal house constructed in the United States, and of such importance in the architectural world that images of it were featured in the prestigious exhibition, “The International Style – Architecture Since 1922” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1932.  The Aluminaire house emboldened a new architectural movement in the United States. While intended as a display of products, the Aluminaire was also an overt demonstration of bringing together the ideas of mass production and high-density community planning.

Aluminaire House Relocated

When the 1931 exhibition ended, the building was purchased by architect Wallace K. Harrison, who relocated it to his country estate in Huntington, on Long Island, outside of New York City.  It was first used as a country house, then added on to, and later relocated elsewhere on the estate, undergoing significant changes. After years of poor maintenance, the severely deteriorated structure became at risk for demolition in the late 1980s. A concerned group of preservationists, led by architects Michael Schwarting and Julio San Jose, Dean of the New York Institute of Technology, saved it, dismantled it, and arranged for it to be donated to the school for their campus. It was then restored and reassembled by architecture students with Prof. Schwarting. When that campus closed, Schwarting and Campani took charge of the house and formed the Aluminaire House Foundation in 2011. The house was again dismantled in 2012 and put into storage in New York where it languished in a shipping container.

Schwarting and Campani were invited to Modernism Week several years ago to lecture on the Aluminaire house to an auditorium full of architectural enthusiasts.  They presented their story about studying the home for more than 20 years, saving it from demolition, dismantling it once, reassembling it and then having to dismantle it yet again and put into storage. It was homeless. That day, an idea was hatched by a core group of local ‘believers,’ who thought Palm Springs would make the perfect home.

The Aluminaire House Foundaton is Born

Immediately after this, the California chapter of the non-profit Aluminaire House Foundation was registered, dedicated to raising funds to move the house to Palm Springs and reassemble it here for permanent display. This local committee, including Tracy Conrad, Mark Davis, Brad Dunning, Beth Edwards Harris and William Kopelk, began the task of raising funds to secure the permanent location for the architecturally significant house. In 2017, the disassembled house was shipped to Palm Springs and has been in storage. Funds are being raised by the Aluminaire House Foundation to reassemble the masterpiece, which will now be on the grounds of Palm Springs Art Museum.

When Will The Aluminaire House be Installed?

One of the main challenges to be addressed is temperature control. The building is made of aluminum and metal, how no air conditioning and no insulation. In the past, the Aluminaire House was installed inside another temperature-controlled structure. This needs to still be addressed. The house could also be made ADA accessible to people with disabilities.

The museum is also working to know what materials can be reused and what needs to be refabricated. It turns out, the aluminum panels have been removed and reinstalled so many times they need to be refabricated. There is a big different between a building that’s installed temporarily for an exhibition and a permanent building.

The Aluminaire Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit registered in California and New York. For more information or to send a donation, please visit

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