William Krisel is among the pioneering architects who helped define and drive affordable, modernist tract housing in Southern California. Born in Shanghai in 1924 to American parents who were working abroad for the U.S. State Department, Krisel drafted his first house at just 11 years old. Krisel’s father sent the drawing to an architect who said that Krisel had the talent to become an architect himself, which is exactly what he did.
Krisel remained in China until he was 13 before moving back to the United States. When he was 18, Krisel was assigned as a Chinese interpreter during World War II. While in the Army, he spoke with other soldiers about their plans for after the war, which ultimately informed his architectural designs, telling NPR, “Everybody had an idea of what kind of a home they wanted and what not, and so I listened to all this and made up my mind that I was going to try and be a specialist in housing.”
After the war, Krisel attended the University of Southern California where he earned his degree in architecture. He went on to design more than 30,000 residential units throughout Southern California, with most of his designs concentrated in Palm Springs, heavily influencing the now-iconic look and feel of modernist, postwar homes.
Krisel specialized in creating beautiful and affordable tract housing that, in the late 1950s, were complete with swimming pools and landscape architecture and sold for less than $30,000. Unlike many mass-produced tract homes, Krisel’s designs were far from generic. Featuring a wide variety of paint schemes, rooflines, and setbacks from the street, Krisel’s designs looked custom-built despite having the same basic open floorplan.
Krisel is also known for popularizing the butterfly roof (which was invented by Le Corbusier) and utilizing clerestory windows to ensure the homes’ interiors were awash in natural light. Like many modernist homes, Krisel's open floorplans combined with abundant windows to beautifully blur the line between the indoors and outdoors. “First of all, [the clerestory windows make] you aware that it’s a beautiful day or a dark day — you’re aware of the weather because the outdoors comes in. Secondly, the space that you’re in is not held in by four walls... your space goes as far as your eye can see,” Krisel told NPR.
Krisel is among the few mid-century modern architects who lived to see the style’s resurgence. In fact, he helped restore many of his original designs before passing away in 2017 at the age of 92.
To give you a feel for just how compelling his affordable houses truly are, we highlighted a few of our favorite Krisel designs below.
Built in 1957, this Palm Springs home features a long gable design of masoned desert stone, which helps create harmony with its surroundings.
This 1962 residential design showcases how Krisel used varying street setbacks to set his homes apart from one another. Priced at more than $1.5 million, the present-day price point makes it clear just how valuable Krisel’s once-affordable time-tested designs are.
Krisel aptly dubbed this futuristic design “The House of Tomorrow,” which includes four circular living areas stacked atop three levels with glass walls that overlook a pool. Elvis and Priscilla Presley leased the home for one year in 1967 and used it during their honeymoon, therefore it is also often known as ''The Elvis Presley Honeymoon Hideaway'.
And, this home is currently for sale! Check out all property photos and complete listing details for The House of Tomorrow here.
Featuring the butterfly roof that Krisel helped popularize, this California tract home perfectly demonstrates how unique Krisel was able to make mass-produced houses appear.
Part of the “Twin Palms Estates” tract houses that Krisel designed in 1956, this house displays many of the characteristics that defined Krisel’s designs, like a butterfly roof, clerestory windows, and unique landscape architecture.
Image Source: psmodcom.org