Albert Frey, one of the last heroic Modernists
With the death of Albert Frey, on Saturday 14 November, ends one of the last direct links with the heroic years of the Modern Movement. Born in Zurich on 18 October 1903, Albert Frey worked from 1928-29 in the atelier Le Corbusier/Pierre Jeanneret, sitting alongside Charlotte Perriand and Jose Louis Sert, while the details of the Villa Savoye and the plans of the Moscow Centrosoyus Building passed across his board. But Frey soon emigrated to the us where, with A Lawrence Kocher, he designed and built the Aluminaire House for the 'Allied Arts and Building Products Exhibition' in New York in 1931.
Here the lessons of the Corbusian villas were well evidenced, but there was also a fascination with new technology: aluminium pipe columns, pressed steel decking, corrugated aluminium sheathing, 'Fabrikoid' and 'Vitrolite'. It is this interest in cheap, durable and industrial materials which made his architecture of the next 35 years so memorable. His home was the Californian desert, and in and around Palm Springs he built dramatic, idiosyncratic and sometimes almost wistful buildings which suggested a direction for architecture but which, in a less accommodating climate, might not have survived.
The first Frey House appeared almost fantastic, with its 1950s space- age Flash Gordon imagery, but, like the Palm Springs City Hall, worked well in the desert heat, the concern being more with climate than styling. The Tramway Gas Station, which provides a western gateway to the city, echoed the mountains with its sharply angled steel roof in the same way as his own second house, a jewel-like glass and steel box set on a monumental masonry base, became part of the mountain itself. It was here, where, as he said, 'there are often squirrels, lizards and quail, [and] at night the lights of the city below', that Albert Frey died peacefully in his sleep.