Life in the Suburbs and the Desert

What can you get for $1.8 million in suburban Connecticut? This house, which is in Weston and which Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Alan Gelbin designed for himself (two Gelbin-designed houses have been on recent New Canaan Modern House Day tours; although the Gelbin and Wright styles are not my cup of tea, one of the houses seemed to have retained its architectural integrity and was worth seeing, while the other did not and, in my opinion, was not).

What can you get for $1.3 million in the California desert? This mid-century modern, in Palm Springs, built for the fellow who both founded the Lear Jet Corporation and invented the 8-track tape (I think I once listened to the Byrds’ Lear Jet Song on a 8-track). No idea who the architect is. -- ta

Trading Rand for Bland

I was sad to see today that Yale University Press has tossed out their long-standing, distinctive logo in favor of simply using the university's name in their straightforward "Yale Design" typeface. The family of Yale typefaces was designed by School of Art faculty member Matthew Carter. The face is beautiful, but as the publisher's identity on the spine of a book, in my opinion, it just isn't enough.

A "mark" should be an at-a-glance identifier, and the Yale University Press logo, designed in 1985 by Paul Rand (I thought it was longer ago than that...) was certainly that. Compact and succinct like a brand burned into the hide of a book.

Apparently what's behind it all is the Yale's desire to bring the Press back into the fold, and not have it exist quite as independently as it had. So, I guess that's the way it goes. I'm happy to say we have a few examples of the old logo to look at fondly, as Yale University Press is the publisher of this wonderful book by my co-blogger and husband. – GF

Modern Martha

For those of you who watch TV, Martha Stewart's show today is about her trip to Palm Springs where she visits "many of the important houses by a representative group of noted Palm Springs architects, including William Cody, Albert Frey, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra. The majority of the houses have been well maintained, beautifully restored, and furnished primarily with appropriate furniture, lighting fixtures, and works of art."

I, sadly (but not too), will miss it as don't know how to navigate our TV's remote control or how to find out what programming appears on what station. . . I left off when there became more channels than 2 through 13! – GF

Caught my eye: Use of materials

The use of the same material for the roof as for the siding in each of the structures in this small collection was something I hadn't really thought about before, but now that I've seen a few examples, it has sunk in that I like the way the consistent texture and color behaves on the landscape – somehow understated and more integrated into the surroundings. Plus, it gives me the chance to post one of my all-time favorite houses by Wespi De Meuron . . . Maddeningly, I can't find the photo of the house that instigated this investigation, but  I'll add it when it shows up.

Top: prefab cedar home by Hudson Architects; the Manuel house by Alberto Gonzalez; The 1970 Perlbinder house by Norman Jaffe seen on RoLu
Bottom: Wespi De Meuron houses in Scaiano and Brione, Ticino, Switzerland

Living in a still life

I wonder if people living in this housing project in Helsinborg, Sweden, feel as if they're just posing . . .  Designed by Wilhelmson Arkitekter, and seen on Dezeen where I also learned that Anders Wilhelmson has profoundly practical and humanitarian side to complement humor of the gilt frames. He collaborated on the development of the PeePoo bag: a single-use, disposable toilet bag intended to improve sanitary conditions in developing nations. What a guy!

Possibly the best seat in the house

When we took possession of the house we live in 10 years ago one of the hardest things I had to part with in order to make the house comfortable for a family of 4 instead of 2 was the window seat in what had been my aunt and uncle's bedroom. It made an "L" shape with windows on both arms of the "L". The longer side of the seat faced the west, with a big view and sunsets. The window on the short side of the seat faced the long second story deck. There were 3-inch thick black and white open-check flat cushions to lie on, and when you lifted those up – I thought this was the greatest when I was a kid – the top of each side of the "L"-shaped seat lifted up revealing a large storage space for blankets and stuff.

I felt terrible when it had to go to make room for the absolutely necessary small addition we made to the house, but in the hope that I'll someday find a way to have one again in my life, I always have my eye open for nice solutions that allow you to feel like you're outside when the weather forces you in. I saw this one on Contemporist, and it's by London based Platform 5 Architects. – GF

The things people build . . .

No, not necessarily Modern but fun anyway, I found 2 websites today that are worth a glance just to help us remember what a big, inventive, diversely creative, world we live in.

At Home-Designing I found reference to the Snail House by Mexican architect Javier Senosiain who has some pretty kookie houses to tour on his own website called Arquitectura Orgànica and the other is a collection of, as the site's name suggests, Unusual Architecture. – GF

A Brutal Exhibition

If I had to offer a quick opinion about the effect of so-called Brutalist architecture on society, I'd say, "Not so great," and then just as quickly admit that it's a gut reaction.

But maybe I'd change my mind, and certainly I'd have a more informed opinion, if I went to see an exhibit opening in Westport, Connecticut, tomorrow that will explore the question:

Aggregate: Art and Architecture -- a Brutalist Remix is an art exhibition inspired by the 20th-century architectural style of Brutalism, including concrete architecture in the shoreline region of CT. Aggregate explores the impact of Brutalist architecture on society, exhibiting artworks that reflect, evaluate, and expand upon its goals, materials, and mixed receptions.

There's also an interesting speaker series that goes with it, featuring John Johansen, the ancient architect himself and last surviving member of the Harvard Five (as you know, if you're in New Canaan you must bow your head when you say the words "Harvard Five").

The photo here was sent to me by Andreas Kornfeld and is part of the exhibition. It's a shot (I think) of the Yale Art Gallery, which doesn't strike me as brutalist at all -- the Architecture School across the road, yes, but not the gallery.

All the details are here. -- ta

Modern In Town

Around here the lion's share of modern houses are on large lots -- two, three, four acres or more -- mainly because that's what the zoning is. Philip Johnson built the Glass House on a substantial amount of acreage and then added to it; my recollection is that his Boissonnas House, also in New Canaan, originally had 20 acres but that over the years the owners chopped off pieces to sell.

Modern houses tend to have a lot of glass, which tends to make privacy an issue if you live in a city or on a small lot in a village or town. A builder (David Prutting) and architect (I can't remember his name; maybe Gina can) [he's Joeb Moore – gf] in New Canaan solved that with this house by including a terrific outdoor living area, complete with kitchen, on the roof. It's about a five minute walk, at most, from the New Canaan train station and overlooks a park and the roof of the old Grand Union. We visited it in May, when it was still under construction, for the opening cocktail party of the New Canaan Modern House Day (the party reminded me in a weird way of a benefit dinner we went to in 2002 at the Jay House, in Rye, a spectacular 1830s Greek Revival that was under renovation). The asking price for this town house is $4.95 million.

Speaking of urban modern, New York Magazine has a feature on apartments designed by "starchitects" that seem to be price to sell in a recession: $14 million for a Gwathmey, $16.5 million for a Robert A.M. Stern, $11.5 million for a Richard Meier, etc. -- not exactly the efficient, forward-looking housing for the masses that the first modern and Bauhaus architects envisioned, are they? -- ta

Now that All the Nice Old Farm Houses Have Been Torn Down, the McMansion Era Is Over in New Canaan

For people who like any kind of aesthetically-pleasing domestic architecture, not just modern, this excerpt about New Canaan from the real estate section of tomorrow's Times should be good news:

“McMansions? The market for $4 million to $6 million houses is very quiet,” said Jill K. Wippern, a broker at Brotherhood and Higley Real Estate. “We have a number of them sitting empty, and as far as I know, there are very few builders that are planning to build big spec homes.”

While expressing optimism going into the fall, Prudence Parris, a veteran agent in New Canaan, said selling prices at the high end had fallen 28 percent over the last year. As for the decade-old trend of shoe-horning giant mansions into small downtown lots, “we are on the verge of another change,” she said. “The nouveaux riches, the young people who are making enough to buy houses, may now want smaller houses” — which here means just four bedrooms and three baths.

The problem is that it's too late. Oenoke Ridge Road, South Avenue and Old White Oak Shade Road, to name just three, have been all but destroyed, in my opinion, by badly designed temples of wealth, all of which have circular drives in front, on which the man of the house can show off his big red sports car.

We learned though that the guy who owns the video store on Main Street is charging sixty bucks a pop to drive people around town and show them New Canaan's modern houses, from the road, of course.

"We could do that," I said to Gina, when she read me that excerpt.

"True, but it would mean you'd have to talk," she said. It would also mean people would have to crowd into my 1997 Subaru.

Speaking of architecture, I used to play football with my classmates from Blessed Sacrament School on the field behind this place, which was designed to resemble a Norman castle. And later on in life I lived a mile up the road from this place, in Keene, although I can't picture it unless it was the group of roadside cabins near the Elm Tree Inn (aka Purdy's or Monty's), which I learned the other day is out of business. -- ta

Run, walk, or take the bus

I love to run, and don't get out as much as I'd like, but a tool I love for calculating distances and planning my running or biking routes is I can plot routes pretty much all over the world and save them, and even make them public for anyone else with the same modest endurance ambitions. There are other, perhaps more sophisticated sites, but I've been using this one for at least 4 years and it's fine by me.

Via Good Magazine:
Coolest bus stops
Find walkable communities, and rate your own by determining your neighborhood's Walkability score.
– GF

Art at Alice Ball

alice ball house front and side If you'd like to get a good look at Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House, in New Canaan, a local shop and gallery is using it next Thursday for a show by a painter named Joe Concra.

It's from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, September 24, at the Alice Ball House, which is at 523 Oenoke Ridge Road, and it's being presented by The Summer House and Tyler Taylor Fine Art of New Canaan. There will be music, wine and hors d’oeuvres, provided by Cava Wine Bar and Restaurant. Apparently they'd like you to RSVP: (203) 594-9550.

I learned about it here and here. -- ta

Changes in Store for Pepsico World Headquarters, Which Were Designed by Edward Durell Stone, Senior and Junior

Aficionados of Edward Durrell Stone – Senior and Junior – will be interested to know that massive changes are being planned for Pepsico's world headquarters, in Purchase, New York.

Stone Senior designed the buildings on the site and Junior designed the sculpture garden, which is worth a visit if you're in the area.

Pepsico has hired a firm to update its master plan and to get approvals from the Town of Harrison. The company says it's not planning to build now, necessarily, but wants to have its ducks in a row for the future. Here's an excerpt from the scoping document for the draft environmental impact statement (both of which are required under state law, to try to make sure that all kinds of issues are examined and all kinds of people are included in the process):

The Master Plan has been designed to maintain the property's elegance, including the relationship between buildings and its abundant open space. The sculpture garden and pond will remain,.... The proposed buildings include a glass atrium building located in the central courtyard between the existing buildings.... The project will also include additional office space; a new multi-purpose destination building; and a new Welcome Center building ....

There are plenty of pictures of what it looks like now, here. -- ta

Modern Houses in the City of Brotherly Love looks like a terrific site -- comprehensive in both photos and information. The fellow who put it together, Craig Wakefield, is a real estate agent who lived in a modern house in the Philadelphia area and (judging from his site) has a pretty good feel for them. I borrowed this photo from his site. -- ta

The New Canaan Modern House Survey is Now for Sale

You can now buy the New Canaan Modern House Survey, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Philip Johnson Glass House: $50 for a CD or DVD that contains a PDF of the study; $100 for a two-sided black and white copy shipped to you in a box; or $200 in a two-sided color copy, also in a box. The order form says, "Questions? Contact: or call 203.594.9884 ext. 0."

Or you can click here.

Before there was Modern

I saw this article in today's NY Times Weekend Arts section on the incredibly talented but practically unknown muralist, Hildreth Meière. Art Deco is probably my least favorite visual arts movement – too much scary stylization in its depiction of humans and animals, and the complicated visual 'buzz' of the surface designs that I always want to peel away to see the pure forms underneath – but I have a deep appreciation for how Art Deco artists interpreted the world and sort of 'coded' it for their times. The style is so perfect for visual story-telling – and that seems to be what Hildreth Meière did, and did so well and in so many media.

She designed and installed incredibly complex ceiling and floor mosaics, painted panels, wood inlay, terra cotta reliefs, and of course the 18' diameter enamel medallions on the façade of Radio City Music Hall. She designed theatrical costumes and executed lovely drawings and gouache paintings. Pretty wonderful accomplishments for a divorced mother living in New York City in the 1930s! The flat, decorative style of Meiere's Art Deco paintings for religious venues is so similar to late Medieval Christian painting. Check out the Asbestos Man from the 1939 Worlds Fair.

Her daughter, Louise Meière Dunn and HER daughter maintain the website of Meière work and life, and live right near us in Meière's summer house in Stamford, CT. What seems to be the first real exhibition of her body of work, “Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière,” opens next week at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure, NY, near Buffalo. – GF

Compact with plenty of light and air

The Australian firm Kavellaris Urban Design seems to love letting the out of doors in as much as I do, but they are doing in in an urban context. The Perforated House has the added, conceptual *gimmick of fanciful panels that create a façade with graphic elements typical of a 'terrace house' which is by and large the style of the surrounding neighborhood. By day, the building is heavy and reflective but by night inverts to a soft, translucent, permeable light box. KUD's website has quite an in depth explanation of what they were working to achieve and why, but I just love how the living space opens up – front to back – like a present, or a flower in the sun.

KUD's Gold Street House, which I like better and could definitely see myself living in, (me, in a city?!), is so compact but has an airy lightness to it, and again, opens up from front to back. It's a little hard to tell from the website, but it seems the shotgun layout gets a breather from a curved wall which gently separates bedrooms from the rest of the living spaces – the inside of the volume is the bathroom, which get big points from me, too, for the design of the shower: no shower curtain or hard-to-keep-clean glass partition. Reminds me a little of Philip Johnson's shower in his glass house. There, the inside of the cylindrical volume is the bathroom, and scooped into the outside of it is the fireplace. – GF
*not meant in a mean way...