Meet Pioneering Desert-Modernism Architect Robson C. Chambers
Written by Kelly Weimert on Wednesday, March 4th, 2020 at 10:05am.
Born in Los Angeles in 1919, Robson Chambers is an American architect who helped to create California’s unique, desert-modern architectural style. Chambers received a degree in architecture from the University of California in 1941. Shortly after graduation, Chambers went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII, helping to design Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.
After the war, Chambers briefly worked as an independent architect before joining the firm of modernist architects Albert Frey and John Porter Clark in 1946. By 1952, Chambers was a partner in the firm, with the three remaining partners for five years until Clark left to focus on non-residential work.
Despite Clark’s absence, Chambers and Frey continued to collaborate with one another, working on now-iconic modernist residential projects like the Frey House II and the Cree House. Together, they also designed the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, the Tramway Gas Station, and the North Shore Yacht Club in the 1950s and ‘60s.
In 1966, Chambers left Palm Springs to work as a campus architect for UC-Santa Barbara. He worked at the university for the next 15 years before retiring in Borrego Springs. While in Borrego Springs, Chambers purchased one of Cliff May’s first postwar ranch homes, where he lived for the remainder of his life. After moving to Borrego Springs, Chambers kept a small private practice, designing a variety of local houses in addition to the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
Chambers donated many of his architectural drawings to the UC-Santa Barbara’s Architectural Drawing Collection in 1998 before passing away in 1999.
Below, we highlight just a few of the architect’s iconic mid-century modern designs.
Designed as the personal residence of Chambers and his wife, Helen, in 1947, this home is one of many collaborations between Frey and Chambers. The walls of glass and clean, simple lines are characteristic of the desert-modernist style the two architects pioneered, blurring the line between the indoors and outdoors.
The Frey House II
Chambers and Frey also collaborated on a personal residence for Frey, dubbed the Frey House II. The house was built at the highest elevation of any home in the city during the time and features a flat, corrugated-aluminum roof with deep overhangs to block out the summer sun and oversized sliding glass doors to create an indoor-outdoor living experience.
Tramway Gas Station
Another collaboration with Frey, the two designed the Tramway Gas Station, now a famous Palms Springs landmark, in 1965. With its cantilevered roof and organic materials, the building is widely considered a quintessential example of modernist architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 and now serves as the Palm Springs Visitor Center.
The Cree House
Frey and Chambers designed the Cree House with just a $40,000 budget. The residence is supported by thin steel columns that give it the appearance of floating over the terrain. The residence was intentionally painted Encelia Green to match the landscape’s flowers, helping to blend it with the surrounding scenery, a defining characteristic of desert-modernism.
If you love the desert-modernism architectural style, be sure to check out our list of the top mid-century modern homes currently for sale In Palm Springs.