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Lowering the Bar

A modernist facade can't keep some developments from suffering from that very American malady: sprawl.

modern real estate correll lowering the bar

Mid-century-modern tract homes have long been coveted by lovers of all things retro, many of whom began gentrifying neighborhoods of them in the mid-1990s. By the early aughts’ skyrocketing prices proved too high. So why not build brand-new, affordable, modern 1950s-style homes?

The result of this thinking is B-Bar-H Ranch, a neighborhood of about 50 houses in five jaunty designs based on the 1950s Alexander homes of Palm Springs. But despite their retro styling, the homes look neither authentically 1950s nor truly of our time. The development is an aesthetic orphan, in dialogue with neither its idols nor its contemporaries. The B-Bar-H has turned “modern” into just another picture-book style. Like the neo-Tudors or neo-Victorians still erected today, B-Bar-H’s commitment to modernism is little more than skin-deep.

To construct affordable homes, Modern Living Spaces, which built B-Bar-H, had to find affordable land. That meant leaving Palm Springs and building on a windswept, 100-year floodplain in an unincorporated area near Desert Hot Springs, where the local landmark is an immense wind farm and swirling dust storms are a seasonal event.

Desert modernism of the 1950s, of course, was never about infill or ecological living. But that was then. Modernism today needs to embrace sustainability, just as its Bauhaus forebears made do with few materials and limited resources after World War I. Modern neighborhoods that sprawl into nearly raw desert signal a clear break from the ethos of the architectural pioneers they seek to emulate. When style is more about pastiche than about innovation, what’s the use?

Time capsules angling to cash in on a look are modern design at its worst, addressing neither the desires, the aesthetics, nor the needs of the day. 
 

  • Real estate illustration by Damien Correll

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Comments

You say the modern movement is about sustainability but it for regular people it's about affordability.

"To construct affordable homes, Modern Living Spaces, which built B-Bar-H, had to find affordable land. That meant leaving Palm Springs"

shame on you, dwell magazine, for this blatant violation of church and state!

the scathing tone of this article could not possibly have to do with the fact that these developers have gone belly up leaving mountains of unpaid bills. i seem to recall many pages of modern living space advertisements in the pages of the magazine a few years ago when this development launched. if you were truly modernism purists, you'd practice what you preach by not providing these poseurs with a platform to reach your audience.

or might it be the case of very sour grapes since there are quite likely some unpaid invoices from modern living space piled up on your accountants' desks?!?

My partner and found it ironic that this article came out just when we were closing on our bank-owned "Brandy Alexander." Okay, so even with the unmotivating model name, It is well laid out, beautifully situated, and reasonably well-built. It was affordable (thanks to the market splat). The views are stunning all the way around. Every day and night it's as if we wake up and go to sleep in a painting.

Now, not all these designs are great, and the developer apparently left quite a mess when the market collapsed. This is a story of an unsustainable housing market and wasteful development mentality, but not of unsustainable development design concept. I think our new neighborhood has a great future and seeks others with a desire for sustainable and beautiful living to come, find "affordable land" (as if that's a a bad thing) and be mesmerized by the "immense wind farm" which reminds us every day that we owe our earth this commitment to renewable energies and sustainable living. Let the wind flow through our hair. Our homes can be "a civilized shelter from the woes of the world and a transformative stage for confronting and enjoying life." (Thomas S. Hines on architect Richard Neutra)

Aaron Britt's picture

Surbhi,

I appreciate your comment, though I must protest. The tone of our coverage of B-Bar-H had nothing to do with their baleful financial situation or any relationship with Dwell. Instead, it's inclusion in the Done Wrong section of the story was suggested by writer Dave Weinstein who wanted to argue against housing sprawling into the desert, no matter what its architectural style. The notion that we covered B-Bar-H in a harsh light has nothing to do with the conspiracy you suggest and everything to do with my conversations with Fred, who, to the best of my knowledge, is utterly unaware of any relationship between Dwell and Modern Living Spaces.

How pleased Dave Weinstein must feel after condemning the entire community of B-Bar-H Ranch as "done wrong".

In fact, the community of B-Bar-H Ranch was first developed in the 1920's and the new houses there are built on ranch property that had originally planned to have homes built before WWII. And yes it's true that the design of BBH Ranch homes are not true to original Palm Springs Alexander homes - but so what! They still look terrific plus they are far more environmentally efficient than the homes built 50 years ago.

And sprawl? Did Mr. Weinstein take any time to drive around the rest of the Coachella Valley? Around the thousands of anonymous gated "communities", the 125 golf courses and the mega-malls - all guzzling untold millions of gallons of water?

B-Bar-H Ranch is really an oasis in the middle of an environmentalist's nightmare.

Most of the people who are taking the time to comment on this article own the homes Dwell is slamming with nonsense and political rhetoric AND WE LOVE THEM! Our homes are mid-century modern architecture with 21st century upgrades AND THEY ARE GORGEOUS! As a matter of fact, Dwell owned one of the model homes out here until the economy took its turn. We were all insulted by the tone and intention of your article and as a result several of the home owners have canceled their Dwell subscriptions. We all thought Dwell had much more class than what was communicated in this article. SHAME ON YOU using Dwell as a platform for the consequences of a poor economy.

The B-BAR-H Ranch Mid-Century Modern Homes with 21st Century Upgrades were designed by professional mid-century architects, they are well constructed and beautiful! They are NOT track homes!

Using Dwell to publish lies and insults is very unprofessional!

I think this article in extremely unfair. I worked for Modern Living Spaces and the intentions of all concerned were completely honorable, we were not posers. These homes were largely the work of one man, and while technically a "developer", the way it is used here arguably implies a shady land speculator with countless projects on the boards who set out to slap a cheap facade on a shoddy product. It simply was not the case; the company basically acquired infill lots in existing subdivided neighborhoods and set out to provide modern, affordable, entry level homes. This article seems to lament that this was sprawl on nearly raw desert, but in fact in concept was more akin to infill in an existing older neighborhood. This is compatible with countless other projects showcased in Dwell ; projects where some little guy picks up a lot on the shady side of town and throws up a modern shotgun shack(an editorial parade ensues), how many times has that been on the cover of the magazine?

I would also like to add;"building on a windswept, 100-year floodplain in an unincorporated area near Desert Hot Springs, where the local landmark is an immense wind farm and swirling dust storms are a seasonal event.” This is a cruel and misleading statement, it could apply to many areas of the Coachella Valley, and people have lived in this neighborhood for years, the whole tone implies that the area is unfit for habitation and that is insulting to the many people who choose to live here. To say nothing of the fact that the landmark wind farm in view is a model of sustainable energy production.
"Time capsules angling to cash in on a look are modern design at its worst, addressing neither the desires, the aesthetics, nor the needs of the day." Another cruel zinger, in fact the residents of B BAR H as Mr. Gaines can attest to are a creative and engaged group of citizens, and frankly this article is an insult to them, many of who probably read your magazine. They have a blog www.PaintbrushTrail.com. And I would ask them if they think they are living in "angling time capsules", do they see it as "Modern Design at it's worst", and whether it addresses their "needs, or aesthetics" "Desert modernism of the 1950s, of course, was never about infill or ecological living."
Perhaps using INFILL sites was an attempt at that. Making solar power available (usually declined due to excessive cost). We used insulation in excess of code, dual paned glass, and other features.

That some might find the homes ugly is a subjective call, but this project was a noble failure, and not modernism at its worst. Modern is a small segment of the home market, the vast majority hates it to begin with, but it is especially disappointing to be torn to pieces in a harsh critique that one rarely even finds in the pages of Dwell. If we were indeed modernism at its worst it was not brought up in any of our other dealings with Dwell. It is an example of the smug eliteness that has increasingly taken over at Dwell. This article implies that outside of hyper-ecological multifamily housing modernism has no place in the marketplace. If one looks at the project fairly while it certainly was flawed it did some things right (you wouldn’t know it here, we are treated as failures of intent not of an historic housing bubble. The other modern builders that went belly up go unmentioned except for the unbuilt raquetclub implied to surely have gotten it right.) There is a story here, but the one told is hardly it, as if this magazine and this editorial was all that was keeping B Bar H clones from sprouting everywhere, Less dogma more fruit bowl manifesto.

Please forgive(and remove double postings) an error on my part, appologies.

Scott, you are so eloquent in putting down in words what Mark and I have been discussing in regards to that pathetic article. The photo editor at Dwell had actually contacted me and asked me to Fed Ex her photos of the neighborhood, of course without telling me about the slant of the article! In addition to that stab in the back, Dave Weinstein the article's writer had "interviewed" Mark for this article about how the downturn in the housing market had affected his project. Mr. Weinstein did not ask ONE question about Mark's, or more importantly, his architects' "commitment to modernism". Did Dwell editors do any fact checking here? Because if they had, they would have discovered that many of the architects involved in Modern Living Spaces are well-regarded for their work, so much so that Dwell has had them speak at their "Dwell on Design Conferences" held in Palm Springs? I could go on about so many other flaws in Mr. Weinstein's "logic: the criticism of windfarms??? The idea that infill is sprawl??? The idea that unless you live in an urban area you are living unsustainably??? I have a feeling that the editors at Dwell are really regretting allowing this new reporter's work into their formerly positive magazine. I, too, will never pick up another copy again.

If you look at what Aaron Britt, the editor at Dwell, has written in his comments, it's obvious he's kidding himself if he can still defend Mr. Weinstein by saying "writer Dave Weinstein wanted to argue against housing sprawling into the desert, no matter what its architectural style." Then what exactly is this comment then, by Weinstein: "When style is more about pastiche than about innovation, what’s the use? " if it's not a slam on the homes themselves?
Dwell has really upped it's use of empty trendy buzzwords...pastiche, innovation, sustainable, etc. The best empty phrase lately has been the editor's desctiption of modernism, which includes "using materials honestly", which implies that someone somewhere is using materials "dishonestly." Did Modern Living Spaces, or ANY builder, for that matter, chop down old growth redwoods and use slave child-laborers construct the homes?

The MLS homes were never intended to be authentic mid-century modern homes. That's been done already - let's move on. The MLS homes (with the exception of the Cosmopolitan, which is a contemporary home) are modern interpretations of a retro aesthetic. The new VW Beetle is clearly an update of the original Beetle. The new Camaro and Mustang and Ford GT are modern interpretations of their 1960's classics, retaining classic styling cues. It's retro-modernism. Some people GET it and LIKE it. The floor plans of the MLS homes are laid out much more intelligently than most authentic mid-century homes I've seen, and they're actually designed to handle desert heat. I guess the wind farm comment was a lame attempt at an insult. The turbines are way off in the distance, and they give the place a futuristic feel. Yea, the place is crazy windy sometimes, but the homes are affordable because they were not built on prime dirt. Does every modern home have to be built on pricey real estate? MLS homes allow those of modes means to own something special. They should be applauded for that.

@Aaron Britt, as for your assertion that writer Dave Weinstein "wanted to argue against housing sprawling into the desert, no matter what its architectural style" is indefensible. The architectural style is one of the main objections to the MLS homes in this article! Did you even READ this assassination piece before defending it? Please spare us the "Golly, gee-whiz, you all misunderstood us" nonsense. Looking at the comments here, I think we ALL understand that this is textbook example of yellow journalism. Somebody thought up the catchy title "Lowering the Bar" and wrote a shameful piece to go with it.

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