Love, Medicine and Better Hospital Design

During my most recent stay in the hospital – 8 1/2 years ago in Norwalk, to be exact – the best design feature of my room was a rainbow that my then-6-year-old-daughter made and which my wife taped to the wall. I learned a couple of weeks later, while reading Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles, that the rainbow is a symbol of hope, and I still have two rainbows that Elie made me back then.

I also read in Siegel’s book (other than Walden, it's the only self-help book I've every read) that patients in hospital rooms with a view of the natural world have better medical outcomes than those who don’t. And so I was interested to read this article in the Atlantic about the importance of good-design in hospitals, and how hospitals tend to pay so little attention to it:

Consider diagnostic imaging departments. MRIs and CT scans can frighten many patients, and research shows that simple elements such as nature photos can ease their stress. Yet the typical scanner room still looks “as if it’s a workshop for cars,” says Malkin, with bare walls and big machines. One of the bleakest rooms at the UCLA Medical Plaza, where I spend my time, is a waiting room in the imaging center. Small and beige, it epitomizes aesthetic neglect, with stained chairs, mismatched tiles, and tattered copies of U.S. News & World Report. The only wall art is a drug-company poster on myocardial perfusion imaging—just the thing to comfort anxious patients.

The big exception, author Virginia Postrel points out, is maternity wards, where hospitals have been forced by competition to provide more home-like settings for families about to give birth. If patients in other wings and wards demanded it, hospitals would improve those places too.

I was pleased by the care at Norwalk Hospital. Nevertheless I hope not to go back. But if I do, I hope they’ve updated the place, with some thought to how to make the rooms more pleasant. They don’t have to be modern, just the result of modern-thinking.

It's a Big Mid-Century Modern World

Mid-century modern houses are everywhere...

Savannah, Georgia, has historic houses dating back to the 18th century but it also has enough modern houses to make a modern house tour a worthwhile fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. Here's an introduction to Savannah's moderns by a writer named Robin Wright Gunn, whose father was one of that city's modern architects.

There are lots of good flash pictures on this website, featuring modern houses for sale in the Philadelphia area.

And here are a bunch of photos of mid-century moderns in Chicago's north shore, which apparently has the same problem with tear-downs that New Canaan has. Denver too, here. -- ta

From the newspapers

In today's Newsday, AP writer Stephanie Reitz has the kind of story that we like to see appear fairly frequently to keep the Modern Architecture movement present in the public's awareness. Bite-sized stories like this which include some history and some current issues are so valuable to inform people who don't know of these wonderful expressions of our recent history, and to keep those who appreciate and hope to protect them up-to-date and inspired.

We'd like to mention to her, though, that the status of the Alice Ball house has changed, as we noted Friday in the post below.

And we (well, Tom in particular) would ask her to reconsider the broad assertion that, "While pragmatists may worry about what others see while looking in [the large windows typical of Moderns], a modernist architecture buff focuses solely on the view looking out. That means the landscape is precisely designed, often with a few focal points such as strategically placed birch trees or a fieldstone courtyard illuminated by lights tucked under the roof line's metal fascia." Most of the Moderns we've known and loved and even lived in are designed to exist respectfully and unobtrusively in their landscape. But I know what she's talking about - homeowners like Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows, who she refers to in her story, have been extraordinarily attentive to the landscape around their homes (here's another they own in in New Canaan), as it is an extension the precisely and beautifully restored structures. They understand one of the most moving and important things about a Modern house, as Reitz quotes Craig Bassam, "It's not like living in a regular house because you're really living within the landscape" – GF

The Owner of the Alice Ball House and the Town of New Canaan Have Reached an Agreement on Preserving the House

The Alice Ball House in New Canaan, which for a while seemed on the verge of being demolished, will remain standing and may in fact be on the verge of being protected.

Cristina Ross, who owns the house (which Philip Johnson designed), called me the other day to say she has settled her dispute with the town's environmental commission. They approved her request to put a driveway through a wetland, which would allow the back of her property to be developed, and she agreed not to knock down the Alice Ball House, which sits on the front of the property, on Oenoke Ridge Road, and has become a modernist icon and a preservationists' cause since she applied for and received a demolition permit last year.

However the settlement still has to be approved by the court, and the neighbors to the rear, who are part of a lawsuit that involves the town and Ross, still have to be mollified.

Ross said that if things work out, she might be able to sell the lot to a developer, who would have to save the Alice Ball House while being allowed to build in the back. That's what the neighboring family, who lives on a back lot, does not want -- they'd prefer to see the Alice Ball House demolished and a McMansion built in its place rather than have a McMansion built close to them. The acronym for that attitude, of course, is NIMBY.

She also can sell to an aficionado of modern houses. She said she has had serious expressions of interest from a couple of buyers recently, who have returned a couple of times. I neglected to ask her if that means there are two separate possible buyers or if the possible buyers are a couple, but whatever.

For the time being, it's good news. The Alice Ball House won't be coming down anytime soon.

Elegant glass box in the woods

On the one hand, it looks a little like an office building in the middle of the lush, hushed woods, but I'll bet that impression changes when you see it in real life. I love that you can see out – and in – in unbroken cross-sections, and the illusion that the solid parts are hovering.

The house is designed by TNA in Japan, and there are other visual treats on their web site. – GF (via the girl in the green dress, via busyboo)

Louis Kahn: Two Museums and the Esherick House

Two of our favorite museums are the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, both on Chapel Street in New Haven and both designed by Louis Kahn. My opinion is that the Art Gallery has greater paintings (like this one) but the British Art museum has better exhibitions and is slightly more pleasant to be in.

I mention here only because one of the few houses the Kahn designed -- the Esherick House, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania -- is being auctioned off soon. The auction house website is here (pictures seem to be few) but you can also find it at Great Buildings Online, here.

Heart of the glass house – it's definitely not a heart of glass

An interesting but perhaps overlooked part of The Glass House is its kitchen. Most people want to know how one uses the bathroom in a transparent house, and after they get over that, what about dressing and even just sleeping so exposed? Here is a short, sort of sweet story about the recollections of Raymond Girard, (88 years old), who spent a lot of time in that kitchen: he built it.

The story in the New Canaan News-Review says, "Girard's return to the Glass House marked the first steps in creating an oral history program at the Glass House museum. Christy MacLear, the executive director of the Glass House, said the staff plans to install an audio booth in the visitor's center."

The Glass House web site describes the Oral History Project thus:
Artists from Robert Raushenberg to Frank Stella, architects and scholars from Vincent Scully and Robert A.M Stern, clients such as Gerald Hines, and close friends of Philip Johnson and David Whitney will be target of this Glass House project to capture and collect conversations, musings, and insight from people who frequented and contributed to the Glass House since it’s completion in 1949. – GF

Tell Us What You Really Think

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Alice Ball House, someone submitted an anonymous comment* calling my analysis pathetic, my assertions nonsense, my conclusions claptrap, my justifications lame, and my "side-stepping lesser evilist comments about how other people have gotten away with it" smarmy. Other than that, I think he really liked the post.

Happily, all our readers aren't so crabby. The people who run Blinkdecor (and who happen to be our neighbors, in Stamford) noticed us, for example, and said nice things about us on their blog, here. Thanks! Take a look at their site, if you're unfamiliar with it.

There aren't all that many blogs that link to us, yet. Here are some that do, fyi: 100K House, eyecandy, and Green Redux.

And here are some that don't but should: Hatch (they're written nice things about us but haven't added us to their links yet), Moco Loco, Best House Design, DWR Design Notes, Grassroots Modern, Inhabitat, Land+Living, Materialicious, Midcentury Architecture. I mean, who needs a blog that links to BoingBoing and Engadget? Everybody knows those sites. Expand your horizons!

* Since everybody knows our names, I consider it my prerogative to reject mean-spirited comments from people who won't tell me theirs. -- TA


Danda is an online magazine on contemporary architecture and design originating in Belgium. I have so far found out very little else about it (like who is doing all the great compiling), but this I do know: it's packed full of wonderful links. I'd never heard of it before today, yet I'm familiar with many of the architects and sites they link to. Set aside a block of time and poke through those links – what a great diversion! . . . Something I could use a little less of right now, but maybe chipping away, a few links at a time is the way to do it! – GF

(somewhat randomly, the photos above are of Laurent Savion's Chamoson house in Sion, Switzerland, which I found through Danda.)

Home again, home again in the Glass House

I've visited the Glass House a couple of times in my life, and passed by it since I was a child at school a half mile down the road, either on bike or in car, probably thousands of times. My most recent visit was in 2001, when it was included on the New Canaan Historical Society's Modern House Day Tour. It was a crystal-clear, deep blue-skied, but definitely chilly, day. It was October, and the trees on the facing ridge – High Ridge, in Stamford, CT – were just starting to turn color. In the G.H. itself, a small fire had been built in the fireplace which is a concave scoop from the only solid volume in the house - the cylindrical, dark brown brick bathroom enclosure. The fireplace was shallow and the fire was built of thin logs in teepee shape - converging at the top and fanned out at the bottom. The smell and the warmth of the fire and the way the house integrated with land and the brilliant day was such an inviting pull I didn't want to leave. . . But I did because we were allowed to walk all over the property, and go into the main house, the library and the brand-new visitor's center which Johnson designed and had built in anticipation of the property being turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Library was completely enchanting, due to it's intimate size and situation, out in a field and reached by a path through the high grass. The conical volume on it's top with glass at the narrow top, funnels light right down onto the reading desk is also a bit like a thinking cap. . . really the perfect place for concentration, pastime and contemplation.

Well – OK. Thanks for putting up with my dreamy little digression . . . Here's what I intended posting about: In the house there is one painting. It is "Burial of Phocion," attributed to Nicolas Poussin (1599-1665), and it sits, because there are no walls to hang it on, on an easel in the middle of the living area. Here is a story from the New Canaan News Review that explains why a 17th C. classical painting was chosen and beloved by Johnson and his companion David Whitney, and how it lives so comfortably in the most iconic of Modernist houses. I can tell you first hand that although the easel is a little confusing and a bit of an obstacle to get used to, the painting is right at home. – GF

Friday morning note: Interesting story (and I don't say that just because you're my wife). There's a big and no-doubt mobbed Poussin show at the Met. The Times has a slide show of some of his paintings, if you're not familiar with his style, here.

On a related note, the Glass House has produced three short films giving people's impressions of the place. Most of it is very serious and solemn (the music is a giveaway that this is important stuff), and I watched it all and found only two things that were slightly funny (Frederick Noyes, Eliot's son, remembers visiting as an 8-year-old and wondering where you go to the bathroom, and someone else who I didn't recognize says that his impression of the Glass House was, "Nice wallpaper"). But they're worth looking at if you have an extra 20 minutes, here. -- TA

Architects We've Never Heard Of

Living near New Canaan, we sometimes let ourselves be fooled into thinking that if a house wasn't designed by an architect we've heard of, then it's not worth noting. We have the Harvard Five all over New Canaan, Edward Durrell Stone in North Salem, Bedford Hills and New Canaan, Edward Larabee Barnes in Pound Ridge and Mount Kisco, so what else do we need?

It's a ridiculous tautology of course -- this architect isn't interesting because we haven't heard of him; we haven't heard of him because he isn't interesting -- but it's sometimes true.

Overnight there was a notice of a house now on the market, designed in the late 1950s by Taylor Gates -- an architect I've never heard of. It's an interesting house, at least from the photos, and it's owned by a woman Gina and I sort of have a connection to, so I Googled the architect and found this MidCentArc Flickr page, which has a fantastic array of photos from around the country, many more than I could click through this morning and many of houses designed by architects I've never heard of.

So what about Taylor Gates? Unfortunately there's not a lot about him on Google -- in fact virtually nothing except the listing for the house now on the market in New Canaan, which perhaps explains why I've never heard of him. The house, by the way, is 3,500 square feet, has five bedrooms, sits on three acres, and can be yours for about two million. But it's not bad looking at all, and if you photoshopped out some of the furniture shown in the real estate ad, it'd be even better.

J. Crew - Nothing New

Fun, interesting and gossipy: this post from Habitually Chic about the Kaufmann house in Palm Springs. – GF

Modern Names for Modern Jobs

Some people's names are perfect for the jobs they do. Near where we live, for example, Jennifer Herring is the head of the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium.

Down in Galveston, an upcoming lecture series features a talk on April 19, called “Mid-Century Historic.” The newspaper there says it will focus on ...

...the architectural style known as Mid-Century Modern.

Buildings designed in this style are now turning 50 years old and thus qualify as “historic.” They are beginning to attract recognition and preservation efforts as much as houses from earlier eras.

Who will lead the discussion? An expert named Anna Mod. I wonder if she's 50 years old -- a mid-century Mod? -- TA

The Abandoned Breuer

Reading the NY Times story I wrote about (below) made me wonder anew about the fate of this 1969 building by Marcel Breuer. When you're driving up or down I-95 through New Haven, CT it's a real landmark. Although now, it's got competition from another, bright blue and yellow landmark right next door: the Ikea store which was built about 4 years ago. As a matter of fact, Ikea often uses the I-95-facing fa├žade to hang humongous banners advertising their $1.99 breakfasts or $199 couches.

In 2002 there was a bit of an uproar when Ikea first showed interest in the adjoining lot
as described here by Kevin Mathews in "Design Community Architecture Discussion": The site is on land occupied by the 1969 Armstrong Building (recently known as the Pirelli building) designed by Marcel Breuer. IKEA's new prototype store is larger than previous stores (300,000 SF). The store's parking requirements have led to a proposal which removes the entire base to the rear of the of the Pirelli building and surrounds the Pirelli building with an asphalt parking lot and minimal planting. A good portion of the base of the building can be preserved with only an impact upon 80 parking spaces (out of 1.241 total). Likewise, the magnificent greenspace surrounding the building can be designed as "turf-parking" with inexpensive, accessible technology, similar to turf-parking technology used at the Westfarms Mall in Connecticut.
So, originally the building looked like this, at left, with greenspace! Hard to imagine as now it floats like a big bodiless head, bobbing on an ocean of asphalt and cars (no, "turf-parking" was not used!).

What will happen to it? – GF

Mid-Century Modern Corporate Campuses: their predicament mirrors those of MCM houses, but on a colossal scale

In tomorrow's New York Times Westchester (and the region) section, David W. Dunlap has written (and produced the very good photos for) an interesting story on the present states of use and disuse of some of the tristate area's immense and architecturally significant corporate headquarters. Shortly following WWII, open land in the suburbs – former farms and pastures and, in PepsiCo's case, a polo club – became corporate campuses, whose centerpieces of buildings were often designed by some of the luminaries of Modern architecture. Some of the big businesses have changed – downsized, merged – but others have hung on to and are thriving in their original locations. Two examples of the latter are PepsiCo in Purchase, NY, designed in 1965 by Edward Durrell Stone, and IBM's Yorktown Heights, NY research center designed by Eero Saarinen, which is so thoughtfully described and photographed by Mr. Dunlap.

The story opens with a profile of another, less fortunate Saarinen-designed corporate complex in New Jersey, this one for Bell Laboratories. Dunlap describes it thus: "The main building, with 1.675 million square feet of space, is organized into four pavilions set among atriums and linked by sky bridges. The perimeter circulation pattern leaves few offices with their own windows. Concrete walls divide many spaces." Interesting-sounding, but not nearly as elegant, warm and inviting as he describes IBM's research center - reading the last third of the article made me want to take up residence there! Read "The Office as Architectural Touchstone" here.– GF