Today, October 6th, marks the day Le Corbusier would be an old f*ck. Today, is Le Corbusier's 128th birthday. It is also just a mere handful of days away from the Modernism Week's Fall Preview in Palm Springs. So where's the connection between a pipe smoking gangly Swiss-French architect and Palm Springs, you ask? Well, it can be found in our article "Le Corbusier's Forgotten Design: SoCal's Iconic Butterfly Roof" which will be featured at Fall Preview event Modernism With A Twist.
The time could not be more perfect to revisit our story of architectural misattribution and misappropriation originally written for Curbed:
Atop thousands of homes in the warm western regions of the United States are roofs that turn the traditional housetop silhouette on its head. Two panels meet in the middle of the roofline and slope upward and outward, like butterfly wings in mid-flap. This similarity gave the "butterfly roof" its name, and it is a distinct feature of post-war American residential and commercial architecture. In Hawaii, Southern California, and other sun-drenched places, the butterfly roofs made way for high windows that let in natural light. Homes topped with butterfly roofs seemed larger and more inviting.
Credit for the butterfly roof design often goes to architect William Krisel. He began building single-family homes with butterfly rooflines for the Alexander Construction Company, a father-son development team, in Palm Springs, California, in 1957. The Alexander Construction Company, mostly using Krisel's designs, built over 2,500 tract homes in the desert. These homes, and their roofs, shaped the desert community, and soon other architects and developers began building them, too—the popularity of Krisel's Palm Springs work led to commissions building over 30,000 homes in the Southland from San Diego to the San Fernando Valley.
But the story of Krisel as inventor of the butterfly roof is actually "not true," as Krisel himself notes. While he did make the feature a Southern California mid-century trademark, it was another architect who first developed the butterfly roof. Twenty-eight years before Krisel designed tract homes for the Alexander Construction Company in Palm Springs, Swiss-French architect and Modernist pioneer Le Corbusier first came up with the soaring architectural feature.