The Real Estate Open House in a New Guise

Here's an interesting if eyebrow-raising way to spin the traditional real estate open house: call it a free modern house tour. That's what William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in New Canaan is doing this weekend with four modern houses now on the market.

I saw the notice in our local paper, the Record Review, which is hanging on in a paper-only edition (perhaps that's why it's hanging on -- because it hasn't succumbed to the temptation to give away for free what its customers will pay for). Here's what it says:

A rare opportunity for the public to tour four of New Canaan's distinctive modern homes is offered on Sunday, Nov. 1, during an open house from 1 to 4 p.m.

Included are the "Hemicycle House" designed by John Howe, a top apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, Wisc., for more than 30 years; a house designed by a disciple of Mr. Wright, Eduardo Faxas; the Alice Ball House, designed by Philip Johnson and the brand-new townhouse designed by New Canaan's David Prutting with architect Joeb Moore of Greenwich.

The free event is open to the public ... For further information call Rita Kirby at William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty in New Canaan...

By the way, if you're interested in a gallery of hideous McMansions, click here.

The Glass House takes backseat to fashion

October's Vogue Magazine has a feature on Phoebe Philo's first collection for Céline, which Annie Liebovitz photographed at Philip Johnson's Glass House. Wonder if that's a first for the Glass House, being bumped from subject to mere background of a shoot? – GF

America's Next Top Buildings

How would you pick American's favorite works of architecture? The American Institute of Architects and a polling firm interviewed architects and a random sampling of the general public, to come up with a list of 150 all-time faves, including the White House, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Fenway Park.

So what was America's favorite work of architecture? Hint: King Kong and Fay Wray spent some time together there.

Most of the 150 buildings are big, public structures, which makes sense, and modern architecture is well represented, although modern houses are not. Fallingwater and Taliesin are 29 and 30 on the list (Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect with the most buildings, eight), and Pierre Koenig's Stahl House (Case Study House #22, above) is there as well, but the Farnsworth House, the Gropius House and the Glass House are nowhere to be found (that must have really bugged the Glass House folks in New Canaan.

The America's Favorite Architecture website is easy to use and has great pictures and useful information. Because I like to keep score, I counted up which architects are named most often. After Wright, there's Henry Hobson Richardson, with six massive granite structures, mainly near Boston, from the late 1800s; Richard Meier, with five; Philip Johnson, with four; and Eero Saarinan and Cass Gilbert, with three each.

The only women on the list, as far as I could tell, were Maya Lin (for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and Julia Morgan, who had two, including Hearst's San Simeon.

The website's here. They've asking for people to vote on the five favorites from the list. And thanks to the folks at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, for pointing this out via Twitter. – TA

Like useful jewelry for a modern – or any – house

I loathe and despise gutters and downspouts, at least the ones hanging off of our house, marring the otherwise clean lines of the exterior. But, if I had one or two of these ingenious rainwater collectors, I might just stop complaining. Designed by Bas van der Veer, a 24-year-old Dutch designer, the "Drop of Water" transforms those nasty leaders into something both whimsical and practical. The pod-shaped "barrel" is attached to the bottom of a downspout. The bright green insert is a watering can which fills up first, while the overflow is collected in the barrel. The spigot at the bottom can fill another vessel and (probably) attach to a hose.  Not yet in production but somebody's bound to pick it up. Bravo, Bas! Seen on blue ant studio. – GF

Notes from the Underground

This sustainable house in New Canaan is not exactly mid-century modern but it's fascinating nonetheless. It seems though that sustainability isn't selling any better than regular old energy-wasting McMansions: A Raveis broker sent me a listing and two pages of details last April, when it was on the market for $2,395,000, and yesterday another Raveis broker sent me the listing again, priced to sell at $1,795,000.

The house was built 20 years ago and was designed by Donald Watson (here's his CV, which shows some interesting projects in urban planning and open space preservation), but I have no idea if it works as advertised. Here's what a Raveis broker sent me:

This residence was designed to provide a high level of thermal comfort, natural
lighting, and a sense of quiet and integration with the surrounding natural landscape. The home is nestled into a south-sloping site amidst gardened terraces and is built above-ground. Yet it is considered an under-ground house because its east, west and north sides fit into the hillside, and its roof is covered with a two feet of earth and grass. …

Many advanced building features are demonstrated in the house including earth-sheltered and passive solar design, light reflectors, photovoltaic electric auxiliary, batch solar water heater, thermal storage fireplace and an air-to-air

The house was built in 1986-87 to the owners specifications. The residence was
designed to be “self-heating” during the cold winter months. After the first year of living in the house, it was determined that the prior February the house maintained an average temperature of 69F inside during a winter period when the outside average temperature was below freezing. …

Also significant is the natural lighting. The ambient level in the major habitable
areas in the house is above 80F in sunny to partly sunny conditions throughout the year.

Special features that save energy and contribute to environmental quality: The entry serves as a combined air-lock and a greenhouse. In the greenhouse is a pebble bed in direct contact with the ground where a drip watering system is installed for easy moisture management. A fountain in the “garden” provides splashing water noise throughout the house.

Skylights at the north side of the house admit daylight two stories down, and the exterior light-shelves at the south windows shade the windows from summer sun and bounce sunlight deep into the interior which provides usable balanced daylight throughout the year. …

The house is a concrete shell covered with earth. The underground walls are waterproofed with Bentonite, a clay based product that swells in moisture and becomes impenetrable to water. The roofs are waterproofed with heat sealed EPDM rubber. Up to 6” of insulation overlays the exterior waterproofing systems which in turn are covered with Enkadrain fabric.

The windows, skylights and doors are low-e glass which has the insulating value of triple glazing. Low-e glass reflects back into the building interior long wave length thermal radiation thereby reducing heat loss. Although there are some windows located for east and west light, most windows face south. The design of the south wall with geometric angles and light-shelves maximize winter sun gain and shade the windows in summer. The concrete construction acts as thermal storage for the winter heat gain.
-- ta

Hardly camping out, but close to nature

There's something tent-like about this tiny house by a river. The chimney is the center pole while the roof sweeps out from it on all sides with a deep overhang past the wonderfully wide glass doors around the entire perimeter, like a very cozy and permanent party tent. It's only 6oo square feet of living space, but the area under those deep overhangs add on to enjoyable space. Architects: Schuchart/Dow, seen on DigsDigs. – GF

Photos by Ben Benschneider, Seattle Times

You really gotta love New York for this kind of renovation

Big doors, walls and whole sides of houses that open up have always appealed to me, but the ones I've seen in the past have, for the most part, been in rather private settings. The current issue of New York Magazine's Home Design Fall '09 Was/Is story features an East Village brownstone whose street-level façade is perforated and the second story opens up wide – on overhead garage door tracks – to the street. The architects did interesting stuff to the back of the building as well. – GF

Top photo: original sealed-up façade
All photos by David Sandberg

A Modern Giant

Because we live in the wealthy suburbs, not far from the big retro buildings where sports guys play, lots of sports guys live near us, or roughly near us. Mariano Rivera, for example, and Joe Torre. Dave Checketts, who used to run the Knicks and Madison Square Garden, and who I now hold in low esteem because of his attempt to buy a football team with Limbaugh, lives up the road, in New Canaan. Tom Seaver used to live in Greenwich. But of course they all lived in fake colonial mansions, or McMansions, I'm sure (I'm guessing here, of course, but it makes sense.

That's why I loved it when I was clicking through the blogs on our blogroll, which I hadn't done in months, and found this post from the MidCentury Architecture blog about the modern house in San Francisco that Willie Mays lived in. Check out the furniture though! There's no word of course about where Willie lived when the Giants were in New York in the 1950s or after he got traded to the Mets in the early '70s.

Solar village pops up in Washington

I'd meant to post about this yesterday, but things got away from me as they often do. Inhabitat did a nice job, so why not go there to read about the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students from around the world compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

I love the use of the Mall in Washington D.C. as the venue for this. Here's the sort of dorky video:

– GF

Historic Buildings of Connecticut, Including a Few From the Modern Era

On Twitter, I follow the Jay Heritage Society, which runs a terrific historic site with a great Greek Revival house (built by John Jay's son), in Rye. This morning they pointed me to this blog, Historic Buildings of Connecticut, which is organized in a number of ways, including by architectural style.

The blogger, a fellow named Daniel, seems to interpret "modern" simply by date, but it's worth looking through his dozen or so photos of buildings from the modern era anyway, including this terrific lighthouse.

If you live in or near Connecticut, the entire site should be fun.

The buildings shown here, which I photographed last week, are near an abandoned factory in Stamford and were, probably, housing for factory workers. They are not from the Historic Buildings of Connecticut site, although I hope someone who knows what he's doing has documented them. -- ta

Pound Ridge is More Modern than New Canaan

Pound Ridge, which is next door to New Canaan, has dozens of modern houses. I started a list a few years ago and came up with 39 without trying all that hard, and we've since come across others. Most are modest and from what I can tell very little attention has been paid to them as artifacts of the modern era or to who designed them.

New Canaan is obviously far more well-known as a modern town. But per capita, Pound Ridge has more modern houses -- at least 39 in a town of 4,800 people, compared to New Canaan, which has 91 and a population of 20,000. - ta

Modern in Pound Ridge

Our friends and neighbors, Sue Haft and Eric Moss, invited us a few months ago to see a house for which they had done interior renovations on a cul-de-sac in Pound Ridge. Eric said it was probably going to go on the market soon, and he said he though the architect was John Johansen, although we're pretty sure it's not a Johansen house.

Nevertheless it was worth seeing and, indeed, it's now on the market, for $2.1 million. The pictures on the real estate listing are better than these two, which I took.

Sue and Eric, by the way, live in a modern house designed by Moore & Hutchins, the same firm that designed our house. Moore did our house for a friend of his named Bertram Willcox, and then did Sue and Eric's for himself. - ta

More 'outstanding' architecture. . .

I guess I never realized before that the Dutch seem to like their architecture protruding . . .

This is housing for the elderly, by MVRDV. It is in a neighborhood of Amsterdam, and it's called WoZoCo. How did it come to look like this? The client's original plan limited the number of apartments per block to 87 units, and each tenant was promised good natural lighting. The number of apartments then grew to 100 units per block. MVRDV's challenge was how to add 13 more units without encroaching on any apartment's natural light or limiting the tenants' common space. The solution was to literally suspend the 13 apartments from the side of the main structure. Saw this a while ago, but it appears to be making the rounds again, via Best House Design. – GF

Oh! this is so . . . schattig!

The first words that popped into my head when I saw Divinatio Restaurant, by Sluijmer & van Leeuwen Architectst, were "it's so adorable!". My online translator converts those words from English to Dutch to as "is schattig".  On the harbor in Utrecht, The Netherlands, it looks like a tall houseboat, but I could see it as well in a field or on a mountainside as a wonderful little house. Seen on Contemporist. – GF

What Can You Get for $1.3 Million in the Pacific Northwest?

A few days back I asked what you could get for $1.3 million in the California desert. Yesterday a correspondent in Washington sent me some photos of what you can get for $1.3 million in the Pacific Northwest.

The answer is found in these photos. The correspondent, Mark Lowder, said it was designed by Alan Bain Jr., who was prominent in the Seattle area and was trained at Cornell. The house was built for Dr. Carl Heller, who Mark says founded the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, although the center's web site says it was founded by Dr. William Hutchinson, Fred's brother. Fred, by the way, was a major league baseball player and manager who died of lung cancer; I had his baseball card when he was manager of the Reds.

Mark Lowder is selling the house. Here's what his email said:

I hate to part with it but we’ve done what we wanted with the place. It was a mess when we purchased it six years ago after being in renters hands for fifteen years. Time to move on.

Protecting migrating birds from crashing into big modern windows

Growing up in a mid-century modern tucked into the woods, I buried many birds – large and small – that died after crashing into our big windows. It was heart-rending to watch the exquisite creatures try to move, give up, and finally see life fade from their shiny, bead-like eyes. After I was sure they'd "gone" I'd pick them up and examine them: broken, loose necks causing the head to loll, feathers so much more variegated when spread out up close than you see when they perch or fly. . . I mourned each one and often slipped a few seeds into their mouths so they wouldn't be hungry when they got to the bird after-world (remember being 6 or 7?).

Many years ago when vacationing in Switzerland, my father noticed black silhouettes of birds applied as decals to large windows designed to trick flying birds into thinking there was too much avian traffic ahead and to avoid it. He tracked them down and brought some home. They remained on the windows for years, to the annoyance of the window washer. They were slightly effective, but not completely by any means.

Here are two new options I learned about here for keeping birds from beaning themselves on you windows: WindowAlert which is a window decal that is virtually invisible to our eyes but is supposed to be clearly visible to a bird. Then there's the more showy, but perhaps more effective FeatherGuard, which is a hanging mobile that attaches to the outside of your window by suction cup. dangling, swirling feathers are a danger signal to birds that another bird has been killed by a predator, and they should choose a different flight path.

It's worth trying something, as woodland birds like wood and hermit thrushes, oven birds and veerys' forest floor habitat has been so severely compromised by hungry deer. They need all the help they can get. – GF