The Lincoln House

A lost Beton Brut

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Above: The Brutalist Lincoln House designed Mary Otis Stevens and Thomas McNulty. Located in Lincoln, Massachusetts the concrete and glass home was completed in 1965. Photo: Julius Shulman / Getty Archives

They say it’s hard to love a Brute (I’m personally a fan of the style) and it is an important example of architectural history currently at most risk. Some Brutalist buildings have been granted heritage status (like Habitat 67 in Montreal and the Trellick Tower in London) but most end up under a bulldozer with few grieving the loss. A great example of American Brutalism was the Lincoln House designed by Mary Otis Stevens. Located in Lincoln, Massachusetts the concrete and glass home was completed in 1965 and demolished in 1999. Perhaps the biggest misconception about Brutalism lies in the name. While it is true many Brutalist buildings look ‘brutal’ the name is actually derived from the original French phrase, ‘Beton Brut’ meaning raw or unfinished concrete.

Mary Otis Stevens Lincoln House Brutalism modernism

Early experimental concept model for the Lincoln House.

Mary Otis Stevens Lincoln House Brutalism modernism

Concept model for the Lincoln House. Photo: MIT Archives

One of few women architects in America during the ’60s and ’70s, Mary Otis Stevens graduated from MIT Architecture in 1956 after a previous liberal arts education at Smith College. MIT in those years was a vibrant intellectual and artistic environment. Alvar Aalto was a visiting professor while he was designing an MIT dormitory; Eero Saarinen was a visiting lecturer while working on the auditorium and chapel; and Buckminster Fuller, who happened to be a close family friend, spent part of each spring term at MIT while Stevens was a student. “We often lunched together and Bucky spent time with my classmates which pleased them but not always the faculty, who did not welcome his geodesic domes filling up their studios!” Although at that time few women were engaged in the design professions, that did not affect the milieu that Stevens associated with in the Boston-Cambridge area, well known for its social and political activism. After briefly working for The Architects Collaborative under Walter Gropius, Stevens joined former MIT faculty member Thomas McNulty and several of his colleagues in starting an experimental architectural practice.

Mary Otis Stevens Lincoln House Brutalism modernism

The Lincoln House designed Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, was much derided when completed in 1938 with the local townspeople calling it a “chicken coop”. Today it is a protected building a stunning example of early Modernist architecture.

Mary Otis Stevens' Lincoln House. Click on image for full view.

Mary Otis Stevens Lincoln House Brutalism modernism

Architect Mary Otis Stevens on the demolition of the Lincoln House, “It was demolished in 1999, during the period when modernist buildings from Cape Cod to California were being torn down due to a pervasive and hostile cultural rejection of modernism and everything it stood for. What Thomas McNulty and I were doing was not a public building but a house, with no doors and no hierarchy. Although it was our own home, it was an experiment and that was threatening. We chose the Lincoln site because that was the town where Walter Gropius had done his experiment. It seemed ok at the time to build our idea of a house, almost three decades after Gropius had done his. Columbus, a Mid-western town in Indiana, had established a tradition beginning with Eero Saarinen of inviting contemporary architects and artists to try out ideas there, and that was fine with the residents. But in Lincoln, an affluent post-World War II suburb of Boston, it was not fine at all. In fact, on a visit to our house, Gropius told me that when he built there in 1938 the townspeople called his house a “chicken coop”.

 

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Tina
Member

Great article. Shocking that it was torn down as late as 1999. I would have thought there would be plenty of enthusiast or historical interest at that time to save it. agreed…such a shame.

Roy
Member

A profound loss for architectural history. The most lethal condition for preservation of our great structures is a booming economy. Nouveau rich destruction of modern works for faux Tuscan travesties.
Had this great home lasted one more year the economic downturn of 2000 may well have saved it.
A sad shame, Lincoln.