We all know that in architecture, few things are truly original. Architects take inspiration from all around them, often taking ideas from the designs of others to reinterpret them in their own work. However, it's more rare that a single architectural element can be borrowed to define the style of an entire region. As uncovered in this article, originally published by Curbed as "Le Corbusier's Forgotten Design: SoCal's Iconic Butterfly Roof," this is exactly what happened to Le Corbusier, who - despite only completing one building in the US - still had a significant impact on the appearance of the West Coast.
Atop thousands of homes in the warm western regions of the United States are roofs that turn the traditional housetop silhouette on its head. Two panels meet in the middle of the roofline and slope upward and outward, like butterfly wings in mid-flap. This similarity gave the "butterfly roof" its name, and it is a distinct feature of post-war American residential and commercial architecture. In Hawaii, Southern California, and other sun-drenched places, the butterfly roofs made way for high windows that let in natural light. Homes topped with butterfly roofs seemed larger and more inviting.
Credit for the butterfly roof design often goes to architect William Krisel. He began building single-family homes with butterfly rooflines for the Alexander Construction Company, a father-son development team, in Palm Springs, California, in 1957. The Alexander Construction Company, mostly using Krisel's designs, built over 2,500 tract homes in the desert. These homes, and their roofs, shaped the desert community, and soon other architects and developers began building them, too—the popularity of Krisel's Palm Springs work led to commissions building over 30,000 homes in the Southland from San Diego to the San Fernando Valley.