“Ask any scholar of architecture to name a midcentury architect in Arizona and they’re likely to name Frank Lloyd Wright, with Paolo Soleri listed close behind. But if you ask any architectural home-seeker, Al Beadle rockets to the top of the list,” writes Jennifer Gunther, a research assistant for the Beadle Archive, in her article “Unboxing Beadle.”
During Modern Phoenix Week 2017, presented in conjunction with the Docomomo US National Symposium on Modernism and Climate, Beadle-mania reigned as the current residents of Beadle boxes throughout Phoenix opened up their homes to midcentury enthusiasts. They’re affectionately called Beadle boxes because of their extremely simple box-shaped forms, sometimes set on raised platforms, with steel frames, flat roofs, concrete-block detailing and open-air carports. What many Beadle aficionados didn’t know, however, was that the architect got his start in Minnesota.
Alfred Newman Beadle was born in St. Paul in 1927. As a boy, he worked for his father and uncle’s commercial kitchen design business, helping to complete drawings in the drafting shop. As a young man, he joined the U. S. Navy, where he was a Seabee in charge constructing piers, command bases, and hospitals. That background, according to our tour guides, is where Beadle’s pragmatism and familiarity with industrial materials began.
When Beadle returned to St. Paul following the war, Beadle designed and built a couple of homes in the Twin Cities area, including this Beadle in Minnetonka. In the early 1950s, Beadle decided to join his father’s new commercial kitchen business in Phoenix. Once in Phoenix with his wife Nancy and their growing family, however, Beadle began altering the desert landscape with his small, compact boxes—which continue to be sought after, restored, and remodeled today.
“It was such fresh, clean design that really brought the outside in,” says Jerri Beadle, one of Al Beadle’s daughters, who was on the tours. “Dad always made sure you had views of the desert landscape, and the floor-to-ceiling windows also made the homes look bigger.” While developers were filling up the valley floor with ranch houses, Beadle’s work was different and continues to stand out as unique.
Our tours included visits to the Triad Apartments, the only Arts & Architecture Case Study project built in Arizona, which groups three small, delightful apartments around a private patio; the “Atomic Lagoon,” a 1963 Beadle with a fantastic party area behind the garage; the Driggs house, a large composition of boxes with a plethora of patios overlooking the desert and a tree growing in the foyer; and a variety of models including Saguaro, Ocotillo, Cholla and Palo Verde (all named for desert plants).
Beadle also designed several other multifamily residences, commercial buildings and the swanky Safari Hotel (which has since been demolished). “Simplicity taken to an extreme, is elegance,” Beadle famously said. In creating his oeuvre, he perfected desert modernism.
by Camille LeFevre