New Canaan

A Modernist enclave in the suburbs

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house
Share this MCMD post with your friends!

 

Above: The iconic ‘Glass House’ designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1949. Photo: architectmagazine.com

When it comes to American Modernist/Mid Century Modern architecture it would appear a disproportionate amount of it is located in California. It has been suggested that the warmer climes of California afforded architects greater liberty to experiment with the new styles. Without concern for cold winters or wet seasons there was less emphasis on pragmatic issues of construction and more focus on style. However, beginning in the 1940’s, far from sun bleached hills, canyons, and deserts of the Los Angeles basin, a pocket of Modernism was growing in the quiet town of New Canaan, Connecticut. It began when a group of Harvard Graduate School of Design professors and students relocated to the town, with the more prominent becoming known as the Harvard Five.

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Rather than dominating its natural surroundings, the simplicity of the structure, coupled with the use of local fieldstone, the Noyes House compliments its environment. Designed by architect Eliot Noyes as his own residence in 1955. One of four homes designed by the ‘Harvard Five’ now included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Photo: architectmagazine.com

 

Largely influenced by Walter Gropius (who founded the Bauhaus in Berlin in 1919) the Five were comprised of noted architects Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John M. Johansen, and Eliot Noyes. Upon arriving in New Canaan they began to experiment with a design aesthetic that was a dramatic shift from what was considered traditional suburban home design. And while not immediately well received many consider the breakthrough structure to be the iconic Glass House designed by Philip Johnson – a sublime exercise in minimalist architecture.

The Harvard Five

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Philip Johnson (1906 – 2005)

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Landis Gores (1919 – 1991)

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Marcel Breuer (1902 – 1981)

Spearheaded by the Harvard Five, as well as other architects including John Black Lee, Hugh Smallen, Victor Christ-Janer, Alan Goldberg and Carl Koch, approximately 100 Modern houses were built of which 20 have since been torn down with four being added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Today the town of New Canaan is internationally recognized for its many examples of modern architecture, all of which prove that a well-designed, Modern house is a house for all seasons.

The Harvard Five and founder of the Bauhaus Walter Gropius

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

John M. Johansen (1916 – 2012)

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Eliot Noyes (1910 – 1977)

new canaan connecticut harvard five mid century modern house

Walter Gropius (1883 – 1969)

 

An enclave of Modernism in New Canaan, Connecticut. Click on image for full view

 

A big thank you to Jeffrey Matz and photographer Michael Biondo for letting me use some of the great photos that appear in the wonderful new book (with Cristina A. Ross) Midcentury Houses Today. You can get a copy by clicking on the image below. Well worth it.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Douglas Major
Guest
Douglas Major

Actually the house was designed earlier than 1949. Johnson was putting finishing touches on the house in December of 1948….so design predates 1949. The house was featured on the front page of the Real Estate Section of The Sunday New York Times on Sunday December 12, 1948.
I know because he was my custtomer and I had done tthe research when I was teaching and he confirmed when I was driving him home from La Guardia one evening. He always wanted to go faster and got a number of speeding tickets driving his white Porche 928.