Walter S. White: Inventions in Mid-Century Architecture

Walter S. White (1917-2002) was a mid-20th-century modern architect and inventor who deserves to be better knownhis architecture reverberates with today’s concerns for environmentally sound and socially inclusive ways of buildings.

This online exhibit is an adaptation of the 2015 exhibit curated by Professor Volker Welter, from the UCSB History of Art and Architecture Department. It was on display in the Art, Design and Architecture Museum from September 12 until December 6, 2015. Some text in this online exhibit was adapted from Professor Welter's book, Walter S. White: Inventions in Mid-Century Architecture (Santa Barbara, CA: Art, Design and Architecture Museum), 2015.

Walter White portraits

Walter S. White portrait, circa 1950s.

White learned how to build from his fatherwho owned a construction business in San Bernardino, California; honed his technical skills in a Southern California airplane factory during World War II; and worked in the offices of noted architects Rudolf M. Schindler, Harwell Hamilton Harris, and Albert Frey. By the mid-1940s White was a designer, builder, and developer to the growing number of desert dwellers in California’s Coachella Valley. After moving to Colorado Springs in 1960, White designed many of the private residences in the exclusive Kissing Camels Estate. In the 1970s he established a reputation for designs that relied on passive solar energy.

Walter White portraits

Walter White at drafting table, undated.

White’s career is notable for three major concerns that propelled his work: inexpensive, even do-it-yourself architecture; innovation in construction and materialsand concern for nature and sustainability. In the early years of his practice, right after World War II, White focused on designing minimal and small, inexpensive houses. These include his affordable wooden cabins for returning G.I.s, small concrete-block houses in the desert, and prefab steel and wood cabins for mountain sites. White had an abiding interest in the construction of buildings and was fearless in his experimentation. He held patents for innovative construction methods, including one for hyperbolic-paraboloid roofs. White’s concern for the local landscape and the earth’s environment led him to design buildings that took advantage of their natural settings while also caring for nature and sitting lightly on the land. Especially in the 1970s, the efficiency of his buildings and their effect on man’s energy consumption became a focus of his practice.