William Krisel on Architecture

William Krisel on Architecture

By Alissa Walker
William Krisel knows architecture. The 84-year old architect has been licensed for a remarkable 59 years. The Getty Museum has just acquired his papers. But at a panel discussion with editor Aaron Britt at Dwell on Design, Krisel says today's architecture industry needs to reclaim its soul.

As a partner at the Palm Springs-based firm Palmer and Krisel, William Krisel managed to build more than 40,000 houses across the United States. You'd think he'd be relaxing at one of those houses in Palm Springs. Nope! He has a new prefab concept rolling out.

Krisel is an icon, in the best sense of the word. As he shows beautiful images of his work—many taken by Julius Shulman—it's hard not to be awed by his warm wood walls and sharp concrete angles. Perhaps the most famous of all is are the vistas of the Bob Alexander House (known as the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway after Presley bought it). He designed the butterfly-roofed tract houses (one shown with his adorable wife of 56 years perched on a lounge chair outside). He also did all the landscaping, which features these beautiful round grass features dropped into neat rock- or gravel-filled grids. Custom houses, corporate headquarters, high rises, Tiki restaurants, apartment towers, low-slung public buildings...Krisel did it all!

But today Krisel says the architect has been demoted. Now, he says, he's not the head of the team; sometimes he's a benchwarmer. Architects no longer get to pick the contractors and artisans and they no longer retain the creative power they once had. Now clients pick vendors like items from an a la carte menu.

Why has the profession gone this way? Lawsuits. Architects are so worried about liability these days that they don't want to assume as much responsibility. And now that the architecture profession is in the doldrums due to the economy, architects should take back their role as the captain of the team.

It's the only way that the entire project will look and feel seamless and of the same vision. It's the only way to have complete control, says Krisel. So what are the roles of the other designers on the project? asks editor Aaron Britt (above). To carry out the orders of the architect, says Krisel. Is he right? Well, at least for Krisel, it always seemed to have beautiful results.


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