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Think Minimal

THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | CHAT ROOM
| SO SOCAL

October 25, 1998|Mary Melton

From City Hall to his Aerial Tramway Gas Station to his homes in Palm Springs, Swiss architect Albert Frey's striking minimalist designs have earned him the title "father of desert modernism." Jennifer Golub, a producer and director at TBWA Chiat/Day who recently won an Emmy for an Apple Computer "Think Different" commercial, talks to us about her book "Albert Frey/Houses 1 & 2" (Princeton Architectural Press). The homage, to be published this month on the occasion of Frey's 95th birthday, is a visual essay of the architect's two residences in Palm Springs, where he has lived since 1939.

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Q: When did you first visit Frey's home?

A: In 1993, I did a tour of Palm Springs modernism and Albert's home. I was completely overwhelmed by Albert's relationship to land, by his vibrant, very bold use of color--he explained that when the encelia flowers are in bloom, these yellow curtains were the same color.

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Q: Why did modernism appeal to you?

A: When I came from New York, like most exiles, you're a little lonely. I was looking for a heritage to engage in. I love the climate, the landscape. I formed this identification with Schindler, Neutra, other exiles who came here and created and problem-solved and interfaced with the land. It gave me roots.

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Q: And Albert's own home . . .

A: It's very reassuring, because I fell in love.

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Q: In love?

A: You're going to go back to the L word--oh no. I came to appreciate that his house was an entire philosophy, not just for architecture but for a way of living. The way he conducted his life represented an ethic.

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Q: Frey says in your book that "furniture is in the way most of the time." Do you aspire to his minimalist lifestyle?

A: Albert hasn't acquired anything since the 1940s. Albert has one set of dishes, a restricted palette of garments from whites to peach to salmon. Albert's life has been as a single person for half a century. I can't emulate him. I've already blown it.

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Q: It's a challenge not to be a consumer in this society.

A: Not for him. It's about making choices. He's one of the most content people I've ever met. He practices yoga each day. Nothing gives him greater joy than to feed his lizard and squirrel.

Q: Why are the '50s and modernism suddenly so alluring?

A: There's an idealism to the time, and a kind of crispness and certainty that may be grounding in some way.

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Q: Is Frey grounded?

A: He himself weighs 125 pounds. Albert is about spareness, both what's useful and beautiful. He's interested in getting the most for the least. That forces you to think harder.

Q: And "think different?"

A: Wait, my worlds are coming together! (Laughs.) Does Albert think different? Yeah, sure.

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