Little-known architectural details were Robert Imber’s passion


The word “gloriette” comes from 12th century French, “glory” meaning “little glory”. It is an ornament, a celebration, a building in a garden erected on a high site allowing views. The shape is often that of a pavilion or a tempietto, the small temples that dot the landscape of Italian gardens. But the most famous gazebo in the world is in Vienna at Schönbrunn Palace. The Schönbrunn gazebo makes the incorporation of the feature film into Richard Neutra’s desert house for Edgar Kaufmann in Palm Springs understandable, as Neutra emigrated from Austria.

In the middle of the 20th century, important architecture was popping up everywhere. Architect and architectural historian Patrick McGrew, writing in 2012, noted that a contemporary of the Kaufmann House, “Mies van der Rohe produced the Farnsworth Residence in Plano, Illinois, and Marcel Breuer delivered the Geller Residence on the roof. butterfly in Lawrence, New York. Charles and Rae Eames’ Pacific Palisades residence arrived; Eero Saarinen’s General Motors technical center opened in Warren, Michigan; and Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation took off to the sky in Marseille, France. ”

The Neutra Desert House, with its gazebo, for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann is comfortable with these masterpieces and a perfect counterpoint to Falling Water, Kaufmann’s Pennsylvania country house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright had tried for the original commission but Edgar Kaufmann chose Neutra instead.

The idea of ​​a gazebo suited the rocky desert landscape and Neutra’s design to perch a Machine Age building on top. It was also a wonderful adaptation of the sleeping porch that was an integral part of the desert buildings, allowing for gorgeous views while enjoying a cool evening breeze.

The word “gazebo” can also designate a large birdcage, similar in shape to the architectural gazebo, often in wrought iron or, more rarely, in wood. Liliane Kaufmann may have thought that the House of the Desert fit this definition better and that she was a bird in that glorious cage.

Her husband was a notorious lottery, and their marriage was falling apart. It is not really known that Wright was fortunate enough to design a house for the site. McGrew clarified, “In the early 1950s, Liliane Kaufmann commissioned Wright to design another house in Palm Springs on the north side of the property where the Neutra house is located. An unflattering image of the Neutra house appears in Wright’s rendering. Named ‘Boulder House,’ as Edgar Kaufmann Jr. confirmed in his book ‘Fallingwater Rising’, this commission was to be a home for Liliane Kaufmann who could no longer live with her flirtatious husband. But she died before the project could be built. It is said that Wright put the names of Edgar and Liliane on the rendering in a futile attempt to regain Edgar’s patronage. “

Wright’s idea of ​​designing another house adjacent to Neutra’s after losing the original commission is a mouthwatering tidbit. This is the kind of obscure information that now fascinates so many visitors to the desert.

Robert Imber, extraordinary tourist guide in architecture.

This is the sort of thing that historian Robert Imber would unearth and then get poetically annoyed, at length, in his numerous tours of the architecture of Palm Springs. Imber is rightly credited with drawing attention to architecture in the desert and creating a demand to see it. The notion of this kind of architectural tourism was fully realized in the Modernism Week.

Imber started Palm Springs Modern Tours in 2001, educating even sophisticated visitors in bits and pieces not found in textbooks. In doing so, he created a growing demand and appreciation for the treasure of mid-century buildings in the desert and their more esoteric stories. His packed minivan would be seen by local residents prowling the neighborhoods and then lingering over interesting sites as Imber explains at length their importance. His stories animated architecture, animating it, recreating its context.

Imber’s untimely death a few months ago leaves a terrible void. He had thought of new adventures. He wrote to many friends in 2017: “I am writing this first round of emails to let you know that recently I have ended my business and, for the most part, no longer do daily tours. After creating the regional office of touring niche architecture and seeing the effort grow, along with the advent of others to meet an ever growing need, it is just time. it’s part of creating a personal “next step” that I hope you take with me at some point. I will make a more formal announcement around the first of the year, but as a ‘teaser,’ in the meantime think about the architectural destinations you would like to visit for a few days, near and far!

“I really can’t thank you enough for your friendship and support for over 15 years touring. I hope this transition gives you time to enjoy each other’s company, which hasn’t been. has been possible for a long time. It remains an amazing journey and the humble honor to be an ambassador of Palm Springs, to have welcomed a myriad of visitors and locals to explore our architectural heritage. I see this transition as an opportunity to give back to the community in new ways, but after so many years of touring twice a day, it’s certainly strange to have unstructured time … but it’s a creative time and I find myself very excited and I will let you know.

“I hope in one way or another that my new chapter will allow us all to continue to savor, share, educate and join others in more architectural adventures.

Imber was eloquent in his long exuberance. Unfortunately, his imagined next step was not to materialize as planned. With his passing, knowledge of many architectural delicacies and curiosities also perished. As the Modernism Week Fall Preview festivities unfold this weekend, Imber’s influence is pervasive. We miss his take on those little glories that enriched mid-century architectural profusion in the desert. Those who enjoy desert architecture may find a champion taking on his glorious mantle on tours offered by the Palm Springs Historical Society. For more information, visit

Tracy Conrad is president of the Palm Springs Historical Society. The Thanks for the Memories column appears on Sundays in The Desert Sun. Write to him at [email protected]

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