Published: August 16, 2016
Brooke Hodge, former deputy director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, was recently appointed as director of architecture and design at Palm Springs (Calif.) Art Museum. She is a well-known and respected professional in the architecture and design community, and will spearhead the museum’s vision for the study of architecture and design, while playing a pivotal role in elevating the museum’s stature as a leading art institution. The museum’s Architecture and Design Center, which opened about 18 months ago, will also be a focus.
What first sparked your interest in design and architecture?
I had an amazing professor when I was studying art history as an undergraduate at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He really sparked my interest in architectural history and preservation. My interest in design probably comes from growing up around good design in the 60s and 70s. Both my parents had great taste and our furniture was mostly Danish Modern and our dishes were from Heath Ceramics. I have some of the furniture pieces now and think they still look great.
How does the center fit into the museum’s overall approach? I think the museum has been expanding into design and architecture for the last 12 years? Why?
There has long been a passionate interest in architecture in Palm Springs because there are so many amazing examples of Midcentury Modern architecture here. Palm Springs Art Museum has organized symposiums and lectures on architecture and design topics for many years — in fact, I presented a keynote lecture [on a project by Richard Neutra] at one of the symposiums back in 2002 — and has also organized many tours of significant buildings and homes for visitors and attendees. One of the museum’s most significant architectural assets is Frey House II, which the architect Albert Frey designed for himself in 1964 and bequeathed to the museum when he died in 1998. With all of the history in Palm Springs and the interest from the local community, tourists and architectural aficionados, the museum believes it is important to include architecture and design in our programming along with art exhibitions.
Tell us about the Architecture and Design Center, which opened about 18 months ago, and what it is known for and what you see as its role is in the community, as well as among museums and the design community.
Sidney Williams, the museum’s founding curator of architecture and design, was the driving force behind the campaign to raise money to acquire and renovate an empty bank building designed by E. Stewart Williams — Sidney’s late father-in-law — in 1961 for Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan. It was Sidney’s vision to have a dedicated space to house the museum’s growing architecture and design collections and present exhibitions. The Architecture and Design Center opened in 2014 and since then we have presented a number of exhibitions devoted to architecture and design and welcomed many visitors who are often as curious about the building as they are about the exhibitions.
The Architecture and Design Center gives the museum a presence on Palm Springs’ main street, Palm Canyon, and serves as a satellite of the main museum. We also have a great design store, The Vault, at the Architecture and Design Center, which specializes in books, housewares, jewelry and other objects that have a connection to architecture and design. In the future, I would like to see the center become a hub or catalyst for addressing some of the issues that face not only our local community but also the region and beyond, such as the drought/water shortage, models for sustainable landscapes, aging populations, mobility, etc. This could happen through exhibitions, which, of course, we will continue to make a priority, as well as workshops, community forums, design studios, etc.
The building itself is landmarked, isn’t it?
The building has Class 1 Historic Site protective status.
What is your vision for the museum and the design center? And in terms of upcoming exhibitions, what kind of stories do you want to tell?
I look forward to working closely with Director Elizabeth Armstrong and my other colleagues to develop a strong program of exhibitions, lectures and other public outreach activities that address architecture and design in the broadest sense while also honoring the legacy of the Midcentury Modernists who made Palm Springs the architectural treasure it is today. Just as the midcentury architects and designers were forward-thinking in their day, I would like us to continue to push the dialogue around architecture and design forward, into the future.
Was it big change coming here from the Cooper Hewitt in New York?
I lived in LA for 13 years before moving to New York City in 2014 and feel very at home on the West Coast and especially in Southern California. So, it was probably more of an adjustment moving from LA to New York. I’m happy to be back in California!
Who are your favorite architects and designers and why? What design styles do you personally gravitate to and why?
I really appreciate and admire the work of the midcentury architects both in the United States and in Europe. Gio Ponti is someone whose work I really admire because his practice encompassed not only architecture, but furniture design, landscape, graphics, theater design, etc. He really thought about design across many areas and recognized that design is everywhere around us and good design makes our lives that much better.
Personally, I gravitate toward Modern design by figures like George Nelson, Russel Wright and I also really like Scandinavian furniture and design — Georg Jensen, Marimekko, Hans Wegner — for its simple clean lines and natural materials, but I am pretty democratic and have a nice mix of high and low in my own home.
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