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Albert Frey Houses 1 + 2

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by Jennifer Golub. Princeton Architectural Press, 1998. 84pp. £24.95

In the course of a long career - which included a period working for Le Corbusier in the late 1920s, and design of the Aluminaire House on Long Island in 1931 - the Swiss emigre architect Albert Frey (who died last November) built two houses for himself in the desert resort of Palm Springs, California. Inventive and economical in their use of new materials (corrugated metal, asbestos-cement board, fibreglass panels), each house - the first on the desert floor (1940), the second on a steep hillside site (1964) - has a calculated engagement with its landscape. House 1 extends into it with horizontal wall-planes; House 2 (right) is angled into the contours of the slope and even accommodates a big, leaning boulder in its principal space.

This stylish book from Princeton Architectural Press, in a translucent slipcase, includes a revealing interview with Frey, but is primarily a visual presentation of these two houses and their terrain. Desert plants and flowers - ocatillo, tamarisk, verbena - populate the foreground, while the backdrop is a mass of mountains. What permeates throughout is Frey's concern for colour, which is captured in the photographs but also incorporated in the design of the book by way of the rose-coloured cover and endpapers in yellow and green.

'Green is very restful for the eyes,' says Frey. 'Actually my favourite colours are yellows and oranges, coral, all warm colours. But at the same time, I used a blue ceiling because it blends with the sky. And then, as you see, the yellow curtains are like the blossoming encelia flowers . . . ' Frey's colours weren't simply applied but integral to the material: 'There was a fibreglass which I could get in a rose colour, or in a green and a yellow.' In the inter-relationships that this book reveals, it seems - for a moment - that culture and nature can be harmonised by a hue.

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