I'll take one, please!

Since shelf space is at a premium (and I'm too cheap!) I'll be asking my library to buy this book: Contemporary PreFab Houses by Erin Cullerton (Author), Michelle Galindo (Designer), published by daab out of Cologne, Germany. I couldn't get the publisher's pages to load quickly enough (5 minutes per page?!?), so here's what MoCo LoCo has to say about it: Due out next month Contemporary Prefab Houses is the first in a series of daab reference books with a compact landscape format that gives a detailed presentation of all projects, showing concepts, photos and texts.

Of course Amazon has it here.

(via the girl in the green dress + MoCo LoCo) – GF

The Future of the Alice Ball House? Sorry, No News

If you're looking for a follow-up to this, come back next week. Our meeting with the owner of the Alice Ball House, scheduled for this morning, had to be postponed. We're on for next Tuesday morning though.

a Modern home as oasis in the city

One of the signature qualities of Modern houses, and the thing I love most about well designed ones, is the consideration given by the architect to where and how the house sits on the land that best allows the resident to enjoy their surroundings. Expanses of glass bring the outdoors in and allow for passive solar heating; skylights brighten the interior with natural light and can create some pretty dramatic 'performance art' on the walls; glass that opens onto a low deck that is an integral part of the design offers close communication with the woods, the desert, the mountains . . .

But what about in the city? There is still sky and light to enjoy but not a lot of privacy and, although rooftops can be an awesome landscape to scan, street level can be ugly. I thought this was an ingenious solution to create space, light and privacy in a city home. It's kn House, by Kochi Architects Studio of Japan. (via the girl in the green dress) – GF

Alice Ball

Architectural Record published a story about the Alice Ball House today on its website to coincide with the expiration of the demolition moratorium. It runs through the usual background and then makes a couple of worthwhile points that are obvious but not often mentioned, which allows me to make some inferences:

Given the resounding success of the Glass House’s public opening last summer—tours of Johnson’s compound are sold out almost a year in advance—and the increasingly mainstream appreciation of Modern architecture, the uncertain future of the Ball house surprises many observers. But Johnson scholar Hilary Lewis points out that other trends are at work.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in Modern design, but there’s been a change in people’s attitude toward size,” Lewis explains. “Johnson’s houses are part of what makes New Canaan special, but they require a different kind of living. Philip [Johnson] was proof positive that you can live comfortably in less than 2,000 square feet.”

Size may indeed be part of the problem. The Alice Ball House has been on the market for six months, and while Parris notes that in the New Canaan market many houses take that long to sell, most buyers in the area are looking for “a five-bedroom Colonial.” With two bedrooms and tile floors, though, the Ball House isn’t exactly family friendly.

So here’s what I take from that:

 Modern houses are trophies, particularly in New Canaan (as I wrote here, on my other blog). http://thissphere.blogspot.com/2006/11/collecting-modern-houses-supply.html
 expensive houses, even in New Canaan, often take a long time to sell; the Alice Ball House has been on the market for less than a year.
 rich people with families want big houses; many of the houses near the Alice Ball House, on Oenoeke Ridge Road, are obscenely big; the Alice Ball House is less than 2,000 square feet; there are plenty of rich people with no families who could happily live in the Alice Ball House as a weekend place.

And then there’s this:

According to Stover Jenkins, the author of The Houses of Philip Johnson, Johnson’s design for Alice Ball, a single woman in the conservative 1950s, was influenced by Mies Van der Rohe’s unbuilt Resor House. It features 10-foot ceilings, glass-enclosed living areas, and private bedroom and service areas.

“It’s a very rationalist house,” Jenkins says, adding that that its massing and siting give the composition the feeling of a romantic garden villa. “It’s not one of Johnson’s masterpieces, but it’s part of a collection of houses he designed in New Canaan. That collection is unique. When you start demolishing parts of a group, it’s like taking apart a community.”


 it’s a nice house but it’s not a great beauty.
 We tend to think of modern houses, or any notable works of architecture, as public cultural assets, and destroying them is an affront; but houses are owned by private individuals; few private individuals who buy a house would welcome the responsibility of owning something that is part of a unique collection of houses; it’s extremely unrealistic to expect any individual to be responsible for holding together a whole community of architecturally notable works.
 The obvious exception to that last point is a situation where the “community” is a historic district, with standards for renovation and external (or even internal) changes; there are scores and scores of these – Providence, Nantucket, Old Harbor on Block Island, even the hamlet of Pound Ridge, in my town – but I don’t know of any historic districts that encompass modern houses.
 Attitudes about modern houses are changing in New Canaan but it’s still virtually impossible to imagine the town creating a historic district of modern houses, of which there are about 80 still standing.
 But the town isn’t the only entity capable of creating a historic district, and maybe isn’t even the best; private groups are trying to do it (here) but this Philip Johnson Glass House webpage, which explains the project, doesn’t seem to have been updated for at least seven months.

Alice Ball Still Standing

The Alice Ball House is not coming down today and it's not coming down tomorrow. The 90-day moratorium on demolition of the house expires today, which means that as soon as the owner is ready, it can be demolished (a couple of earlier posts about the situation are here and here).

The Alice Ball House was designed by Philip Johnson and sits, visible to all, on Oenoeke Ridge Road, in New Canaan, Connecticut. When it actually will come down, or even if it will, I can't say. But I'll have a better idea tomorrow morning.

Last week I asked the owner, Cristina Ross, if I could email her a few questions about her plans for the house and the property, and she responded by inviting us for a tour. We're meeting her there tomorrow morning. -- TA

Modern Architecture + Climate Change in Holland

I'd heard about these Dutch "floating" houses about a year ago, but yesterday's entertaining and illuminating story by Joe Palca for NPR's Climate Connections series brought me right into one of them. Do read or listen to the article, (the podcast has more "flavor" to it as you really get the feeling you're on a house tour.) – GF

Diversion: working in the world's largest basket

So, this post isn't about anything modern, just a couple of pretty funny things I came across, thanks to cribcandy. First, the Longaberger building:

Then, there is the Dog Bark Park Inn, in Cottonwood, Idaho, described as follows: Dog Bark Park Inn is a bed & breakfast guesthouse inside the World's Biggest Beagle. Guests enter the body of the beagle from a private 2nd story deck. Some of the dog's decorative furnishings are carvings by Dog Bark Park chainsaw artists Dennis & Frances. Inside and up another level to the head of the dog is a loft room with additional sleeping space plus a cozy alcove in the muzzle:
And the last (for now) needs no further description:
– GF

The Follies of Jinhua Architecture Park

Although The Jinhua Architecture Park opened last spring, I've been seeing references to it lately and wanted to make a quick note of it here on Modern. Borrowing from a very complete article on the Park that appeared in Five Foot Way, the project evolved like this: For this new development the artist Ai Wei Wei – son of a famous Jinhua poet who has worked with Herzog & de Meuron on several of their projects in China – was picked to design the river Yiwu wharf and a culture park south of the river. Herzog & de Meuron, who are very well known in China due in particular to the Olympic stadium under construction in Beijing, were appointed to draft the masterplan for Jindong and for a shopping centre. Ai Wei Wei later received a proposal from the city council to develop a park and a small museum on a long narrow site (80 x 2,200 metre circa) north of the river. The artist came up with a collective project, and brought in other architects and designers – 5 Chinese and 11 international – to contribute to the realisation of this green area. Seventeen public pavilions have now risen up along this strip of park, mainly utilising local materials: 17 low-budget follies, each with its own architect or designer’s cultural imprinting.

Iwan Baan's photos tell even more. (via – most recently – coolboom)

for Modern birds

Seeing a post on swissmiss for these birdhouses is what led me to nextroom (see post below).
(originally from eyecandy-webcandy) – GF

More Mountain Modern

I bumbled into a website called nextroom Architektur out of Austria, thus adding to the ever-growing list of ways to feed my modern mountain house daydreaming and avoid doing my paying work. Nextroom was founded by Swiss architect Juerg Meister in 1996: "Architectural institutions select buildings for inclusion. Expert juries create theme-based collections. Nextroom links the data with information, illustrations and press reviews."

From nextroom, you can follow links to the website of the firms that look particularly enticing (since I'm most interested in single-family houses to see design ideas put into use, this link takes you to a list of them, but there are lists of industrial and public buildings and projects as well). Poking through all these entries and links - what a great way to spend a snowy afternoon! (photos below from K M Architektur)
– GF

A Mid-Century Modern Cowboy and Other Preservation News

I have a historical artifact buried in a drawer somewhere -- a circa 1960 Hopalong Cassidy watch that I got probably when I was first learning to tell time.
What I didn't realize until now is that it has a connection to historical mid-century modern houses. Out in Palm Springs, officials are working on a new law that will list local places of historic significance. One of the potential sites, according to the Desert Sun ...

... the black and white mid-century modern house built by William Boyd, better known as Hopalong Cassidy, at 73-498 Joshua Tree St.

I'm going to dig around this weekend and see if I can find that watch (I know it's not with my Davy Crockett handkerchief). It alone might be a mid-century modern classic. I wonder what kind of house Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lived in?

Hopalong Cassidy's house might be significant in Palm Springs but it doesn't quite make it to the level of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings might. Here's an excerpt from UNESCO's 2008 tentative list:

Wright (Frank Lloyd) Buildings, Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

These ten properties are among the most iconic, most intact, most representative, most innovative and most influential of the more than 400 Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designs that have been erected. They span almost sixty years of his efforts to create an "organic architecture" that attracted widespread international attention and powerfully affected the course of modern architecture around the world as well as in the United States. The properties include the two Taliesins (his long-time homes with studios and schools); three residences he designed for others, two office complexes, a place of worship, a museum, and a governmental complex. They are:

* Taliesin West (1938), Scottsdale, Arizona
* Hollyhock House (1919-21), Los Angeles, California
* Marin County Civic Center (1960-69), San Rafael, California
* Frederick C. Robie House (1908-10), Chicago, Illinois
* Unity Temple (1905-08), Oak Park, Illinois
* Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1956-59), New York, New York
* Price Tower (1953-56), Bartlesville, Oklahoma
* Fallingwater (1936-38), Mill Run, Pennsylvania
* S. C. Johnson and Son, Inc., Administration Building and Research Tower, Racine, Wisconsin (1936-39; 1943-50)
* Taliesin (1911 and later), Spring Green, Wisconsin

And finally there's another news story out today about the prospects for a significant building biting the dust, not in the Palm Springs desert but in New Canaan, Connecticut. I'm referring to Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House, on which a demolition moratorium expires on January 29. Despite the expiration date, the house won't be coming down immediately. From the New Canaan Advertiser:

... Ms. Ross’ application still requires several documents before it can be acted upon.

In a call to the Advertiser Wednesday, Mr. Platz said he had not received notice that utilities had been disconnected; an asbestos manifest; verification that oil tanks have been removed, nor any demolition contractor’s certificate and insurance information.

While Ms. Ross’s submission of these elements are “routine, not insurmountable steps,” Mr. Jarboe said, he added, “It’s not coming down next week.”

Tuesday is D-Day (for Demolition) for Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House

The Alice Ball House, designed by Philip Johnson and standing for all to see on Oenoeke Ridge Road in New Canaan, might be demolished in less than a week on Tuesday, January 29.

That's when an automatic demolition moratorium expires (I had mistakenly reported that the moratorium expires on February 15). The house's owner, Cristina Ross, is in a dispute with the town over the use of the property and says the only way she can resolve it is to raze the house. Although many other modern houses in New Canaan have been destroyed, including at least one each designed by the other four members of the Harvard Five (Breuer, Noyes, Johansen and Gores), this would be the first Johnson house to be demolished.

alice ball demolition notice 11/8/07

The Alice Ball House continues to be on the market, but Gillian DePalo, who specializes in selling mid-century modern houses for William Raveis Agency, told me on Tuesday that there's no cause for optimism on that front.

Here's what the New Canaan News-Review reported today:

Provided that landowner Cristina Ross submits final paperwork, building inspector Brian Platz said he will hand out a demolition permit. Ross needs to give notice of Connecticut Light & Power shut off and documentation of an asbestos survey and any necessary abatement.

"When the 90 days is up and the owner gives me all the paperwork, then I'll process the application and issue the permit," Platz said in an interview with the News~Review. "Which doesn't mean she has to."

Read more here.

MIMOA – mapping Europe's Modern Architecture

What a great idea if you can't get to the cities you'd love to visit to see the modern architecture offerings, or have some places you'd like to share! MIMOA stands for Mi Modern Architecture. Here's how they describe their site: It is the best source of information for your city trip in Europe with all Modern Architecture in one view. MIMOA shows Europe’s Modern Architecture on a map with the address and all additional information you need to actually find and visit interiors, parks, public places, buildings and bridges.

MIMOA is free and open for everyone to contribute: publish your projects, posts comments and ratings, define your personal favorites and keep track of the projects you’ve visited. All this personal information, reviews and opinions, define the current trends in architectural Europe.

MIMOA is intended for anyone interested in Modern Architecture, design, culture, photography, cities, Europe, travelling, visiting buildings, knowing how to get there, whether the project is public and what the opening hours are. You can make your own personal convenient architecture guide

An interactive map lets you choose a city and shows how many projects entries there are - great for planning a trip and for keeping a record of your own travels and architectural observations. – GF

Watershed – a writer's studio

A writing studio, built by architect Erin Moore of FLOAT architectural research and design, for her mother, a philosophy professor and nature writer of some note, is described by FLOAT, in part, like this: The writing studio is designed to reveal the ecological complexity of the site to visitors and in this way it is successful: Small tunnels under the studio bring rare reptiles and amphibians into view through the floor-level window. The water collection basin that doubles as the front step draws in birds and deer. At midday, the silhouettes of these animals project from the water onto the interior ceiling. Windows on the west and north sides frame different bird habitats—the tops of fence row trees and the patch of sky at a hilltop updraft. The roof diaphragm amplifies rain sounds and the collection basin is a measure of past rainfall.

Read more about its other ecological attributes here, under "current research". It's called "watershed". via inhabitat – GF

A10 Magazine – New European Architecture

I'm saving up for a subscription to this magazine, published out of Amsterdam. Here's a little of how they describe themselves:
A10 provides a concise and up-to-date survey of the latest developments in European architecture, from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea. A10 is compiled and published by architecture critic Hans Ibelings and graphic designer Arjan Groot. It has a network of over 70 correspondents throughout Europe, from Ireland to Turkey and from Portugal to Russia. Thanks to this pan-European network, A10 is often the first to take notice of a new project or building.
From the thumbnails on the website, it looks great - some fairly wacky architecture, interesting content, good photography well presented in a handsome, clean design. 6 issues a year cost 42.50 euros, or $63.37.

Also available now is their 2007 yearbook: In this book A10 presents an overview of the latest European architecture, with an extensive selection of twenty five projects previously featured in the magazine. In addition it contains four long essays: correspondents from Croatia, Estonia, Poland and Portugal reflect on the current state of architecture in their respective countries. Edited by Hans Ibelings and Kirsten Hannema / 160 pp. / €39.50 ($57.55). – GF

Destination: Storefront for Art and Architecture

OK. So I live under a rock in the 'burbs. In an early modern house, under a rock, in the 'burbs. . . I just learned about this place in NYC, Storefront for Art and Architecture, which EVERYbody else probably has known about forever . . . But if you're new to it as I am, here's what they say about themselves:

Mission Statement: Founded in 1982, Storefront for Art and Architecture is a nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of innovative positions in architecture, art and design. Our program of exhibitions, artists talks, film screenings, conferences and publications is intended to generate dialogue and collaboration across geographic, ideological and disciplinary boundaries. As a public forum for emerging voices, Storefront explores vital issues in art and architecture with the intent of increasing awareness of and interest in contemporary design. – GF

97 Kenmare Street
New York, NY 10012
Tuesday - Saturday 11 – 6. Closed Sunday + Monday

Landis Gores's House for All Seasons Was Torn Down and Replaced by This

Greedy developers and homeowners who show off their wealth and bad taste by buying ostentatious and garrish homes are an easy mark in New Canaan. But just because they're easy doesn't mean we shouldn't aim at them. I used tol ike to walk along Laurel Road in New Canaan because its east side is a rocky ridge atop which sits five white moderns, at least two of which are gems. Nearby is a cul de sac called Soundview Road and the last time I was there, maybe a year ago, I did a double take because I thought I remembered a modern house there, at the top of the hill.

Then a couple of months ago I received an email from Pamela S. Gores, the widow of Landis Gores, one of New Canaan's Harvard Five architects. (She still lives in New Canaan, in the house he designed for them.) She was responding to something I had written about modern houses, sustainability and energy-efficiency:

The House For All Seasons designed by my husband, Landis Gores, included numerous energy conservation features, was demolished last year so that a larger house could be built upon the site.

Of course! That was the house I remembered, The House for All Seasons -- a house designed and built in the 1970s specifically to be energy-efficient. You can see pictures and diagrams at LandisGores.com, here.

What could be more perfect for the early years of the twenty-first century, when we need as much energy efficiency as we can get? And what could better epitomize attitudes in New Canaan, where they almost seem to be proud of destroying modern houses, than that a well-designed, energy-efficient house be razed in favor of this:

House for No Seasons

Green Building, This Time in San Francisco

There's another interesting modern, sustainable housing projet/experiment happening in San Francisco's Mission District, where Sunset magazine ("Living in the West") has built one of its Idea Houses and made it as green as possible:

Our San Francisco home is also the first Idea House to rise in an urban setting. Which is part of the point: Until now, eco-friendly architecture has often been limited to the West's rural or exurban regions, where there's more space for new construction and potentially bulky energy systems. Our goal was to show that resource-savvy design can be just as appropriate in more densely populated cities and suburban neighborhoods. ...

But what makes the home truly groundbreaking are the eco-features it incorporates, some of them still in experimental stages. For example, hot water will be provided by rooftop tubes that collect solar energy, says Matt Golden, founder and CEO of Sustainable Spaces and a project consultant. The home's electricity will come from SunPower solar panels and a wind turbine installed in the backyard — a power source so unusual in San Francisco, the builder had to get a one-year provisional test permit before it could be installed. A high-tech resource-monitoring system will keep tabs on energy and water use.

Take a look, here. The house is open for tours (at $20 a pop) until later this month. I learned about it on Hatch, the blog of a company called Design Public, which seems to have furnished the house for the tour and is selling the stuff it furnished it with. -- TA

New Modernism in Philadelphia

Anyone who is a fan of mid-century modern architecture and furniture must realize the paradox of looking back with longing and affection at the objects of an era whose key principle was optimism about looking forward into the future. That’s why it’s important when looking back to learn what the classical modernists were doing and adapt it to the needs for today (a paradox and an oxymoron in the same paragraph -- not bad).

This story, in Metropolis, examines a very new collaboration, between Interface Studio Architects, “a 29-year-old fledgling developer named Chad Ludeman, and a local custom-home builder, Level 5,” that wants to take the best characteristics of modernism and translate them into sustainable buildings in a part of Philadelphia that needs to be revitalized. Here’s an excerpt from the story, which was written by Karrie Jacobs:

Ludeman embarked on a research project, trying to figure out a way to build affordable, green Mod­ern houses in his own neighborhood. He financed the new business by selling the house he and his wife had rehabbed. Ludeman decided he didn’t want to go the fashionable prefab route but preferred to start a “stock-houses program” that would allow buyers to choose from a small inventory of designs, much like KB Homes or Toll Brothers. He thought his best bet was to use structural insulated panels (SIPs), a common cut-to-order wall, floor, or roof component. And he wanted to build these houses on a budget of $100,000. They would be small—1,000 to 1,200 square feet. (The average Amer­ican house hit 2,300 square feet last year.) Ludeman's blog—yes, he’s blogging his way through the process—lists some arguments for the small dimensions: “Homeowners will be able to say things like, ‘I can fit five of my houses in your McMansion,’ or ‘My house is smaller than your garage.’ ”

Assuming they make it through Philly’s permit process, the collaborators are planning to put their first two 100K Houses on a lot in Kensington in early 2008. The houses will be Modern in style and built with recycled materials, state-of-the-art insulation and seals, passive solar heating, and Energy Star appliances, all points eligible for LEED-for-homes certification. “More aggressive greening is offered as an add-on,” Phillips notes. The houses will be oriented so that a photovoltaic array could be added in the future. One of them will be roughly 1,035 square feet with two bedrooms, which Ludeman hopes to price at about $215,000. The other will be a slightly larger two-bedroom that will sell for $245,000. “Hopefully, I’ll make a little bit of money so that my wife doesn’t tell me I have to close down my business,” he says.

It’s called the $100,000 house, and someone (Ludeman, I think) is blogging about it, here. It's small-time stuff and by itself it's not going to stop the sea-level rise of mcmansionism, but it's a start. -- TA

Walls and Boulders

Sometimes on my drive to work, I take Guard Hill Road in Bedford and pass a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, whose other work (like The Wall at Storm King) always delights us. There’s another Goldsworthy sculpture, called Wood Through Wall – a wishbone-shaped tree trunk embedded in a stone wall – at Buckhorn, a private art center in Pound Ridge, but we’ve never seen it. The great thing about the sculpture on Guard Hill Road (Three Roadside Boulders) is that it’s part of the roadside, not in a museum or private collection. It’s modest, clever, unexpected, always worth at least a glance and sometimes more, and you can see it whenever you want.

Here are some photos I took yesterday, showing an otherwise ordinary-looking stone wall, and then the boulders, from east to west.

andy goldsworthy on guard hill road

andy goldsworthy, Bedford, NY This i

andy goldsworthy, Bedford, NY

andy goldsworthy, Bedford, NY

In "Wall," a book of photos of Goldsworthy’s wall sculptures, Kenneth Baker writes that Three Roadside Boulders …

… explicitly evokes the burden it must have been to early farmers of the area to have new stones perennially surfacing. … a long stretch of dry-stone wall is abruptly interrupted by a gap that looks at first like a gateway. In fact, the gap is a set-back section of wall within which a single giant boulder appears to levitate. Two others like it stand farther along the wall. In each of them, a massive boulder sits, above ground, embedded in a ribbing of vertical slate slabs. The buff-colored boulders (found by Goldsworthy when they were uncovered on a construction site nearby) stand out against the dark gray slate like gemstones in settings, although he says he chose the boulders for their form, not their contrasting color.

I don't know who lives behind the wall of Three Roadside Boulders, or whether the owner now is the person who commissioned it. Land records list the owner as a company rather than an individual. What's the connection with modern houses? None really. Bedford isn't as well known for its modern houses as New Canaan, or even Pound Ridge, although there are a handful in the neighborhood. But the house behind Goldsworthy's wall isn't visible. -- TA

Time Running Out on Johnson's Alice Ball House

The Alice Ball House in New Canaan is featured in the In Focus column on the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation's website. The owner, Cristina Ross, has applied to the town for a demolition permit and, assuming a buyer doesn't materialize soon, can tear the house down on February 15. If it happens, Philip Johnson would join the other Harvard Five architects (Breuer, Johansen, Gores, Noyes) in the ignominious honor of having one of their New Canaan houses demolished.

A Modern House on a Snowy Day

A couple of inches of snow fell overnight and this morning the light is flat and gray. Our house was designed by Moore & Hutchins, in 1939, for a friend of John C.B. Moore's named Bertram Willcox. It's listed in a 1940 MOMA guide to modern architecture in the northeast. Guide in hand, Gina's aunt and uncle tracked it down and bought it in 1949. We moved in in 2000, after Gina's uncle passed away a few years earlier, at age 96.
1939 Modern, front
It looks substantially the same on the outside. It was built though as a weekend cottage for use in the fall and spring, so the inside has been changed several times to accommodate it for year-round (and family) use.

Shortly after it was built, Samuel Gottscho (or his partner, William Schleisner) photographed it, inside and out. You can see their photos by going to this page, clicking on "Moore and Hutchins," and then clicking around until you find the Willcox house. The house Moore designed for himself is also pictured; it's next door to us. -- TA

cosy and quick on a mountainside

Fueling my interests in alpine and prefab architecture, I was happy to learn about The Heidis, designed in 1999 by Milanese Matteo Thun + Partners. This prefab house fits in nicely on the alp landscape. I like the way the beds are built in in the kids' room – GF

via Architecture Talk

Modern Postage

These almost make me want to give up electronic bill paying (which I love because saves paper, time and postage). These .41¢ stamps celebrate Ray and Charles Eames, and were designed by Derry Noyes, daughter of architect/industrial designer Eliot Noyes. When they become available this summer, take a break from email – send a letter! – GF

via land+living

the old + the new = just right

I've always been enamored of very old buildings (mostly in Europe) whose interiors have been renovated and given a modern look with a clean, and open feel. Formerly barns, "working" buildings, or just ancient houses, they're often painted pristine white inside, and outfitted with unobtrusive recessed lighting, and the original stonework and centuries-old structural wood elements are revealed. So sensible and soothing, I almost forget to be amazed at how perfectly the 2 architectural languages work together!

I can click through the samples of architects' work on this website for hours, especially the Swiss ones. Here are some pix or work from a favorite firm, Markus Wespi Jérôme de Meuron architekten. I adore this house. – GF

The Spruce House, beautifully spruced up

James Biber of Pentagram's New York office was asked to renovate this house in Ann Arbor, MI. The Spruce House, which was originally built by a local architect named Ted Smith in 1959 for his own family, was in pretty rough shape, and required gutting. Just look at it now! I love the writer's cabin and separate garage with, ahem, a hang-out space for the teenage son. Those were not part of the original property, but they look like they were always meant to be, thanks to Biber's respect for the original architect's aesthetic. What I wouldn't give for above-the-garage teenager quarters! a beautiful job, as one would expect from Pentagram. – GF
via Mid-Century Modern Interiors

Modern House Posts Elsewhere

Before we started this blog, I used to write often about modern houses on my other blog. Some frequent topics: Modern House Day in New Canaan, Philip Johnson’s Alice Ball House, the teardown phenomenon, Paul Rudolph’s Micheels House, the Harvard Five (Johnson, Breuer, Eliot Noyes, John Johansen and Landis Gores), Edward Durrell Stone’s Celanese House, the Glass House, John Black Lee, Gores’s pavilion in Irwin Park, and our own house in Pound Ridge, which was designed by Moore and Hutchins.

If you’re interested, you can read about them by clicking here and scrolling and clicking around further. But come back, please. -- TA

Beta-Plus Publishing – beautiful books of beautiful houses

Find a bookstore that carries this Belgian publisher's books. Feast your eyes . . . beautifully designed and printed, transporting photography of houses of many styles from all over the world. One place to find a great selection is Sea Cloth, on Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, CT. It's not a bookstore, rather a place to shop (or ogle) home furnishings and textiles aranged in the store by color "stories". My guess is that they carry such an abundance of home design and style books to inspire their visitors to buy their wares and bring those terrific interiors home. – GF

Alan Goldberg Variations

There are certain houses in New Canaan that we refer to as “move-in-tomorrow” houses – places where, when we visit, we look at each other and agree that it’s so right we could move in tomorrow. One of them is the house on Laurel Road that Alan Goldberg lives in. We were there for a cocktail party that preceded the New Canaan Historical Society’s 2004 Modern House Day and immediately felt as if it enveloped us in warmth and elegance (the picture on the far right of the second row, here, shows the interior of the house).

Goldberg worked for Eliot Noyes (whose own house, on Country Club Road, is also a move-in-tomorrow house), heading Noyes’s firm’s architecture division, where he was noted for designing Mobil gas stations (among many other things – check out this story, from New Canaan-Darien magazine to get an idea of the range of his interests).

This came to mind this morning when I came across an ad for a house on Frogtown Road that Goldberg designed. It’s big by modern standards – 4,300 square feet – and was built in 1982, which makes it a late-century modern, if there is such a thing. I’m not sure I’d call it a move-in-tomorrow house but it’s worth looking at, here. --TA

Modern in Hawaii: Exhibition of the work of Vladimir Ossipoff

Here's a modern architect I'd never heard of. Vladimir Ossipoff (great name!) was born in Russia in 1907, raised in Tokyo and schooled at Berkeley, and practiced architecture in Honolulu. Read this story, and follow the link at end of the story to read about the exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts. Be forewarned – the Academy's website is really bizarre to read and navigate. Tip: find a white area and your cursor should turn into a "minimize" symbol. Click that to get more navigable stuff on your screen. – GF

The Farnsworth House and Mies's Inspiration

I wrote the other day about John Black Lee and his discussion, during New Canaan’s recent Modern House Day, of what he considered to be the five great houses in America. What led him to that topic was a digression about the Farnsworth House, in Illinois, designed by Mies Van der Rohe for Edith Farnsworth. Lee said his mother had been a college classmate of Edith Farnsworth and that one of the reasons she was so eager to have Mies design a house for her was that, as John Lee put it, she had the hots for him.

I realize that’s gossipy and maybe not relevant to the design of the Farnsworth House, but it made me at least raise my eyebrows in amusement when I watched a really interesting four-minute video tour of the Farnsworth House on a blog called Mid-Century Modern Interiors. I don’t know who produced it or who the host and narrator is, but it’s well-done and informative. In it, the host refers to the house as being “a difficult and adversarial collaboration between a driven client and unyielding architect.”

An unyielding architect? I inferred from John Black Lee that Edith Farnsworth’s interest in Mies was unrequited. Maybe it had to be for Mies to concentrate on producing what the narrator of the video calls a work of art.

Take a look at the video, here. -- TA

1948 Bauhaus-influenced B&B

Has anyone reading this ever stayed here? After 2 visits on consecutive days to the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, we stopped by Field Farm on our way back home to see what a modernist B+B might be like. It was a snowy afternoon exactly a year ago and it was closed, but we peered in the windows.

Oddly, the B+B itself doesn't have its own URL. To see photos and read the description, go here and click on "Historic B&Bs" in the lower right corner. The Guest House at Field Farm, 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown, MA, is the second entry down. I'd be interested to hear what it's really like inside. – GF

How's this for a small footprint?

Front Architects says on its website (after you switch from their Polish to English), that these pre-fab dwellings are Inspired by a city billboard, it is designed as an object suitable for almost every place on earth. It is especially predisposed for sites of an interesting landscaping. For instance forests, seas, lakes, mountains, meadows - but, on the other hand, just next to the main city street. Very, very cool. (via inhabitat) – GF

Pre-Fab houses: a MoMA exhibition you can really get into

I was wondering aloud the other day why modern-style pre-fab houses don't seem to be as popular a choice for people embarking on new residential construction as I would expect. The concept of Pre-Fab is sound – components of the house are manufactured at one location (in a factory, assembly-line style) which cuts down dramatically the amount of costly on-site construction. Because the components arrive at the site pretty much ready for assembly into a structure, there is supposedly less wasted material – stuff isn't being trucked into the site, most of it used, and whatever isn't used is tossed. They are designed to be energy-efficient, and seem to be perfectly suited to accepting solar panels - some even come with that as one of the many options for customizing. Also, they're perfect for those who can't bear to wait a year or so for traditional construction. After the sitework is done, you can watch your new home go up in something like 3 days! Another compelling reason to consider pre-fab: most of them are just plain cute!

Maybe people unaware that pre-fabricated houses are an option to be considered, or perhaps when they hear "pre-fab" still think "trailer park"? Maybe they assume they are allowed no choices to personalize their home?

Whatever it could be, there will be lots to be learned when The Museum of Modern Art begins assembling 5 pre-fab dwellings in a vacant lot next to it, on West 53rd Street, NYC. The show, called "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling", opens on July 20, but house parts begin to arrive late May, early June. The delivering and assembling of the houses are important parts of the exhibition and will be completely viewable to passers-by. This article in today's New York Times says that, beginning mid-March, the architects of each house will record progress the fabrication through completion on a blog at MoMA's website. The houses will be accessible to visitors when the exhibition opens in July.

Although I'm disappointed that neither of these prominent pre-fab architects - Rocio Romero and Michelle Kaufmann - made it into the chosen 5 (from a starting pool of 400 architects!). They are favorites of mine and I hope they are well represented in the exhibition inside the museum. – GF

The House Has Been Demolished: The Harvard Five in New Canaan

I was in a rush when I dashed off yesterday’s post about William Earls, the author of The Harvard Five in New Canaan, and his speaking engagement this week at Waveny in New Canaan.

The full title of his book is The Harvard Five in New Canaan: Mid-century Modern Houses by Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Philip Johnson, Eliot Noyes, and Others.

It’s a bit of an odd book because there’s hardly anything written by the author – just a brief introduction and a handful of short captions. But it includes terrific photos of a number of New Canaan’s modern houses, and it reprints a really good essay, called “New Canaan Modern: The Beginning 1947-1952,” written by Jean Ely and published in 1967 in the New Canaan Historical Society Annual.

What also struck me was to see in black and white the partial documentation of New Canaan’s shameful history of allowing significant modern houses to be razed. It is the history of knocking down modern houses and replacing them, presumably, with obnoxious mcmansions (New Canaan allows 18th and 19th century farmhouses to suffer the same fate too, so it’s not just a modern house issue).

Earls has photos of eight such houses:

Noyes house, designed by Eliot Noyes in 1947: “The house has been demolished.”

Kniffen house, by Noyes and Marcel Breuer, 1949: “The house has been demolished.”

Johansen house, designed by John Johansen, 1949: “The house has been demolished.”

Mills house, designed by Breuer, 1949: “The house has been demolished.”

Dunham house, designed by Johansen, 1950: “The house has been demolished.”

Stackpole house, designed by Noyes, 1951: “The house has been demolished.”

Riley house, designed by Chauncey Riley, 1952: “The house has been demolished.”
Goode house, designed by Johansen, 1953: “The house has been demolished.”

It is both eye-opening and sad. -- TA

The Harvard Five

New Canaan gets a lot of attention for its modern houses, and the Harvard Five get a lot of attention for being New Canaan's big-name architects. Bill Earls, who wrote a book called "The Harvard Five in New Canaan," will be giving a talk on the subject on Thursday, January 10, 9:30 a.m. at Waveny, a big, unmodern house in a big park in New Canaan.

Supposedly it's open to the public but non-New Canaan residents sometimes get hassled by the cops when they try to go to Waveny. Details of the talk are here. Someone should pay more attention to non-Harvard Five architects in New Canaan, no?

Sketch Pad: A Renovation on Long Island Sound

The Sunday Times has a new feature, called Sketch Pad, in which they find a house or an apartment that needs work, and then they ask an architect to design something new for it. Yesterday's happened to be a house in Clinton, Connecticut, on a tidal creek that leads to Long Island Sound. It's not modern, particularly, but it sounds like a good way to readapt a decent house rather than razing it and building a McMansion. And they strove for energy efficiency:

The whole house has been redesigned for the conservation-minded. Although the windows facing the marsh have been made much bigger, they are certainly more efficient than the tiny ones that inexplicably offered only a peek at the marsh and the tree-covered point beyond. The existing fireplace has been kept; the architects envision geothermal heating, solar collectors and scads of insulation.

I laughed at this part:

“If the phragmites are cut down,” Mr. Grover said, “you could put in a walk to the dock.”

Sure. Phragmites probably should be cut down, but convincing the local wetlands commission to let you do so and then put a walk through the wetlands would take longer than getting the house built.

Here's the story. Click on the slideshow, on the left side of the Times page, for a good look and some interesting audio from one of the architects, William Grover. -- TA

Great Houses and Houses Architects Built for Themselves

It was fascinating a couple of months ago to hear John Black Lee, sitting in the living room of a beautiful and modest house he designed in New Canaan, say that he thought there were only five great houses in the United States: Fallingwater; the Glass House; a house Lee himself designed and Toshiko Mori updated, on Chichester Road in New Canaan (he called it Lee House number 2); Johnson’s Boissonnas house, and the Kaufman house, which Richard Neutra designed, in Palm Springs (my original post, a longish account of New Canaan’s Modern House Day, is here).

What called it to mind was a list that I came upon recently on a site called LottaLiving.com of 50 houses designed by modern architects for themselves. The houses are from all over and include three in New Canaan – the Glass House, Breuer’s house on Sunset Hill Road, and Eliot Noyes’s house (the other two-fifths of New Canaan’s Harvard Five – Landis Gores and John Johansen – were omitted). Nineteen of the 50 are (or were) in California, six in Illinois, and three each in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida. I’ve been in four of the 50: Breuer, Noyes, the Gropius house in Lincoln, Mass., and the Franzen house in Rye, N.Y. Take a look at all 50, here (there are a lot of good pictures). -- TA

Mountain PreFab

I have had the great good luck of having visited Switzerland more than 20 times, and am somewhat besotted with the architecture of the cantons that I know well, foremost being the Engadine area in the far eastern canton of Gräubunden. There, you see farmhouses a few hundred years old clustered in a hamlet, perhaps centered on a fountain from which livestock and their humans get good spring water. Many houses have decorated façades, the designs and illustrations - whimsical, familial, biblical, pagan - scraped into the wet, freshly whitewashed exterior walls, and often enhanced with color.

I found this today - no room for "sgrafitto" façade decoration here . . . It's all glass!

You can get a good look at this German company's offerings here: http://www.huf-haus.com/de/intro.html
– GF

Protect Your Modern House and You Might Get a Nice Income Tax Deduction

I know what Cristina Ross should be doing on January 14. Ms. Ross, you may remember, is the New Canaan architect who bought Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House for about a million and a half dollars, renovated it, put it on the market less than a year ago for three million, and now wants to tear it down.

On January 14 there are two meetings in New Canaan at which she can learn how she might be eligible for a nice income tax deduction if she protects the house with a historic easement. the money she saves in income taxes might be enough to let her keep the house on the market for a while longer, until a buyer appears who appreciates the house's historic value. Amy Grabowski of the Glass House sent me the media alert. Here's part of what it says:

This workshop will explain how to use preservation and conservation easements to protect historic properties in Connecticut and surrounding areas, using the abundance of New Canaan modernist buildings as a case study. Open to homeowners, real estate agents, historical societies, and preservation organizations across the state of Connecticut, this workshop will share the common components of easements, what to expect as the owner of an easement property, and what potential tax benefits are associated with the donation of an easement.

Representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, and Historic New England, will provide information on their preservation easement programs. Following the presentation, there will be a Q + A session as well as one-on-one consultations with participating organizations.

The meetings are at the New Canaan Historical Society. There's an afternoon session and an evening session. The hosts are the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, New Canaan Historical Society, the Northeast Office of the National Trust, and the Philip Johnson Glass House. RSVP to Marty Skrelunas, the Glass House, 203.594.9884 or martin_skrelunas@nthp.org.

I happen to work for an organization that uses conservation easements as the foundation for its land preservation work. I can attest that when the conservation values are legitimate and well-documented, the tax deduction allowed by the IRS can be significant. I assume the situation is the same for an easement that protects a historic house.

I hope Cristina Ross and lots of other in New Canaan (and why not Pound Ridge, which has its own supply of modern houses) think about taking advantage of it. -- TA

Birth of the Modern

The world needs another blog. At last count there were only 39 billion of them in existence. So we’re starting this blog as a place to write about one of our enthusiasms -- modern houses, and the well-designed furniture and objects that fit in them.

We think that at their best, modern houses are beautiful, warm, inviting, and efficient in ways that are important in an era when energy consumption should be declining. And we think modern furniture and other objects are beautiful and functional, even when they’re not in modern houses.

What do we mean by “modern houses”? Generally we mean houses that were built from roughly the 1930s to the 1960s (our was built in 1939). Houses that are characterized by flat or gently-sloping roofs, an efficient use of interior space, a rejection of ornamentation for the sake of ornamentation, a connection (usually through large expanses of glass) with the natural world, and a sensitivity to the environmental conditions of the site they are built on – again, generally. But not always. Fantastic houses with a modern sensibility were built in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and are being built today (although not many).

Unfortunately many more are being knocked down, to be replaced by cookie-cutter monstrosities. This is particular issue in our former home, New Canaan, Connecticut (the Alice Ball house, below, which was designed by Philip Johnson, is threatened now) but it's a problem elsewhere too.

alice ball demolition notice 11/8/07

Our goal is to write not only about modern houses that are threatened, but also about particularly interesting ones that aren’t, about the architects who designed them and, if we can, about the people who live in them – and also about the sensibility that informs them.

Modernism was a good model for domestic architecture in the middle of the 20th century, and we think it can be a good model for the early 21st too.