The spectacular views of the San Jacinto Mountains and the vast Coachella Valley below surround the Christie Residence in Palm Springs, California. Architect James Schmidt, AIA of Schmidt Architecture designed the home, with 3,217 square feet (299 square meters) of living area, “as a long, linear bar to maximize the picturesque scenery from the primary living areas.” However, Schmidt also wanted to use materials and a design that broke down the barrier between the interior and exterior living spaces.
Schmidt selected polished concrete floors, walnut casework and concrete masonry throughout the house to capture the mid-century feel of Palm Springs. Following World War II, the Palm Springs area saw tremendous growth for vacationing families and wealthy individuals. The elongated entry walk with its burnished, stacked block wall, floating roof canopy and spider-leg columns is reminiscent of the numerous public buildings, hotels and residents around town from the 1960s. The pivot doors reflect the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the early modernists. The simple, clean lines evoke a simpler time. In the heyday of the 1960s, architects commonly used patterns of concrete block in their designs.
The concrete masonry walls were designed using atypical six-inch (152 mm) and eight-inch (203 mm) burnished block. Burnished concrete block were chosen for their rich texture, which reflects the color and pattern of the desert, yet added a refined finish. In addition, the size of the blocks broke down the scale of the walls and provided flexibility to easily accommodate the nine-, ten- and thirteen plus foot (2.7, 3.0, and 4.0 plus meter) ceilings throughout the home.
According to Schmidt, “The block walls provide architectural massing that serves as an anchoring counterpoint to the floating roof plans and the abundant walls of glass.” The home is 50 percent glass and needed a solid material to stabilize it.
Structural burnished block was utilized in the entryway because Schmidt wanted to showcase the texture of the units and also develop a sense of mystery as visitors enter the home. The interior hallway features burnished block as a structural wall that showcases the richness of the material as a backdrop to the gallery. The fireplace walls and columns at the back of the house between the pivot doors were constructed of structural wood and steel and then covered with a burnished block veneer.
Considering Palms Springs’ severe climate, Schmidt utilized deep overhangs, thick block shade fins and pivot doors to capture the cooling northern breezes to temper the interior temperatures of the home. Aside from the inherent thermal mass qualities of the concrete block, the material was a logical choice because it is durable enough to handle the physical abuse of extreme climates in the area.
The Design Awards jurors honored this residence because the concrete block seamlessly blends with the architect’s goal to capture the feel of the 1960s and embrace the surrounding environment.