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Modern House Day Tour

The Neo-Classical Home Opens Its Doors on the One-Year Anniversary of Johansen’s Death

The Warner House (1956) designed by John Johansen is one of the homes featured on the Modern House Day Tour + Symposium.

Photo by Robert Gregson

The New Canaan Historical Society (NCHS) announces the return of its signature event, Modern House Day Tour + Symposium, on Saturday, October 5. The New Canaan, Connecticut tradition dates to 1949 when the inaugural event attracted more than 3,000 people. In 2004, the NCHS revived the tradition and added a symposium that offers the opportunity to hear from experts in the field of Modern architecture and art. This year’s theme, entitled A Modern Mix: Art + Architecture, celebrates Art in the Modern home. Guests will enjoy in-depth guided tours of homes designed by Ulrich Franzen, Gates and Ford, Alan Goldberg, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Bimel Kehm, Hugh Smallen and Edward Durell Stone.

This year’s event offers the rare opportunity to view John Johansen’s Warner House (1956). Selected in 1958 as one of the best contemporary homes by Architectural Record, the home (also referred to as the Bridge House) is a Neo-Palladian structure whose living room spans the Mill River that flows beneath it. “Of my designs, the Warner House most elegantly interpreted the Palladian ideal: the central pavilion was the bridge that spanned the stream, its three bays covered by arched vaults. Flanking this bridge were secondary pavilions rendered in pink stucco decoratively embossed with my designs. Gold leaf was used in the arches and on the living room ceiling, and on the exterior spurting off rainwater to the stream below were eight gilded gargoyles designed by the sculptor Robert Engman,” stated Johansen. Until his death in October 2012, Johansen was the last living member of the Harvard Five – a renowned group of architects including Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Eliot Noyes and Philip Johnson, who settled in New Canaan just after World War II.

On October 5, Modern House Day Tour + Symposium will be held from 8:30am to 7:00pm opening with a continental breakfast and Symposium at New Canaan Country School (NCCS). The NCCS campus features buildings created by Modern architects including The Arthur K. Watson gymnasium (1974), the Henry Welles Building (1968) and the original Stevens Building (1978), all designed by Gary Lindstrom, as well as the Middle School and Science Buildings (1961) which were designed by Landis Gores.

The Symposium begins at 10:00am and will be moderated by John Arbuckle, DOCOMOMO (Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) New York/Tri-State board president and co-chairman of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) New York Chapter Historic Buildings Committee. John formerly served as Director of Business Development at Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects and as an Associate at Beckhard Richlan Szerbaty & Associates, a successor to the office of Marcel Breuer. Symposium featured speakers include:

Michael Biondo, Photographer
For 25 years, Michael has traveled the world photographing architecture and fashion for leading publications. His most recent photographs are featured in Allan Greenberg’s upcoming monograph. He is currently working on a book about New Canaan’s mid-century modern houses.

Robert Gregson, Photographer
Bob Gregson is an artist who uses architecture as an element in his playful installations and projects. His work encourages interaction and participation – and his love of architecture is expressed in his photographs.

Mary Thorp, Founder of The Harry Bertoia Research Project
A Bertoia expert and aficionado, Mary Thorp is cataloguing Bertoia’s work, organizing exhibitions, and lecturing on his work at auction houses, museums, and universities.

Following the Symposium, guests will enjoy lunch on the NCCS campus. The House tours will follow lunch and guests will be transported to each location via private tour vans, escorted by an architect or historian of the Modern Movement. The day will close with an evening cocktail reception hosted at the New Canaan Historical Society.

Event tickets cost $275 including breakfast, symposium, lunch, tour, cocktail reception and transportation and can be purchased online at nchistory.org. Modern House Day Tour + Symposium 2013 is generously sponsored by William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty and Gina Federico Graphic Design. Event proceeds benefit the New Canaan Historical Society preservation program.

The New Canaan Historical Society

New Canaan, Connecticut is widely known for its scores of houses designed in the decades after World War II by some of the nation’s most notable Modern architects. The New Canaan Historical Society (NCHS) is at the forefront of efforts to preserve this legacy. In 2002, the NCHS revived New Canaan’s tradition of Modern house tours, and added an educational symposium. Subsequent tours and symposiums have been held in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The NCHS Library contains an important collection of archival material about the Modernist movement in New Canaan, and the Society operates and maintains the Gores Pavilion (1959) in Irwin Park. The NCHS was also a lead sponsor of the groundbreaking Modern Homes Survey, which identified and documented 91 mid-century Modern houses in New Canaan and developed criteria for evaluating the integrity and significance of Modern residences.

William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty
Founded in 1949, William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty manages a $2.6-billion-plus portfolio with more than 1,000 sales associates in 28 brokerages spanning Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Westchester County, New York. William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, combined with partner firm Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty, is now the largest Sotheby’s International Realty® affiliate globally, the third-fastest-growing real estate company nationally, and the 23rd-largest real estate company by sales volume in the United States. Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty serves the luxury home market throughout Westchester County, New York. A full-service real estate firm headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty provides ancillary services including commercial services through its affiliation with Building and Land Technology, a second-generation development company based in Stamford, Connecticut; William Pitt Mortgage; William Pitt Insurance Services; and an award-winning global relocation division. For more information, visit the website at williampitt.com.

Sotheby’s International Realty’s worldwide network includes more than 13,000 sales associates located in 700 offices throughout the United States and 49 other countries and territories.

Featured Architects

Ulrich Franzen (1921 – 2012) was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1921 and immigrated to the United States in 1936. He graduated from Williams College in 1942 and received a Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1948. After graduation, Franzen went to work for I.M. Pei and then left to open his own firm, Ulrich Franzen and Associates, in New York City. His firm established itself through educational, corporate, and residential commissions. Franzen's work reflects a dedication to social context and to "the use of powerful forms." Franzen himself stated, "Architecture is the servant of its time and significant designs are experiments of an era. The buildings that are designed become footprints of our own socio-cultural history, reflections of the ideas and concerns of an era, and not those of an individual."

Among his numerous honors are the Arnold Brunner Prize given by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Louis Sullivan Award from the New York Chapter of the AIA, the Thomas Jefferson Award from the University of Virginia, and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Williams College. Franzen has been a frequent lecturer and has served as a visiting professor at a number of universities including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Gates and Ford Architectural and Planning Associates was formed by the partnership of Frederick Taylor Gates (1924 – 1978) and Russell Ford (1922 – 2011). Both Gates and Ford attended Phillips Exeter and Yale University before serving in the military during World War II; Gates served in the Navy while Ford served as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. After World War II, they settled in New Canaan, Connecticut, and formed their architecture practice.

Gates and Ford Architectural and Planning Associates designed several Modern houses in New Canaan. One of the firm's notable buildings is the Melville House (1958), featured in the 1959 Modern House Tour. The firm was also commissioned to prepare the first comprehensive zoning plan for Newtown, Connecticut, in 1957.

In 1957, Gates left New Canaan to form a partnership with architect Robertson Ward, who had designed the first Modern house in New Canaan (Kirkbride House, 1937). Ward's firm specialized in tropical hotels and resorts and single-family residences and was based in the Bahamas.

Alan Goldberg was born in New York City in 1931. After graduating in 1954 with a degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Goldberg went to work for the St. Louis Office of City Planning and then joined the army. After he left the service, he moved back to New York City. During his first ten years in the city, he worked on several projects including the Seagram Building (Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, 1954-58). In 1966, he moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, to work for Eliot Noyes (1910-1977). Goldberg was named head of the firm's architecture department in 1972 and became a partner in 1974. During the latter part of the 1970s, the firm was renamed AG/ENA. After Noyes's death in 1977, Goldberg became principal architect and took on a number of Noyes's corporate clients, including the Mobil Corporation.

Goldberg's commissions reflected the range of his interests in interior design, lighting, graphics, and corporate design. IBM and other companies engaged Goldberg to advise them on corporate design projects. From 1977 to 1991, he directed Mobil's service station design program that impacted 20,000 stations throughout the world.

In 1988, he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Goldberg has served as a visiting critic at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and as a design juror at the Yale University School of Architecture. In 2004, the School of Architecture at Washington University selected him for the "Distinguished Alumni Award." In recent years, Goldberg has become engaged in the promotion of hydrogen as an alternate and renewable energy source. As part of a partnership, Goldberg and his team have created a prototype for a Hydrogen Fueling Station/Information Center (2006).

Landis Gores (1919 -1991) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1919. He attended Princeton University, focusing on Greek and English studies, and graduated summa cum laude in 1939. He received a degree in architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1942 and was awarded a gold medal that same year from the American Institute of Architects. At Harvard, he studied under Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) and Walter Gropius (1883-1969), but also developed an interest in the ideas of Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

At the start of World War II, Gores enlisted in the military and became a member of the top-secret operation "Ultra," which successfully deciphered the code of Germany's high command; this operation was viewed as instrumental in the Allied victory. For his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Order of the British Empire.

After the war, Gores joined Philip Johnson (1906-2005) as an associate designer in New York City. The projects they completed together include a significant addition and gardens for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (1953). Gores also worked with Johnson on the design of the Hodgson House (1950-51) in New Canaan. It was during this period that Gores began associating with Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), August Heckscher (1914-1997), and others in building concepts that were sensitive to energy conservation and the environment. Gores’ innovative ideas about these subjects are evident throughout his work, especially in his partially underground homes such as the House for All Seasons in New Canaan, Connecticut (1978, no longer extant), and designed to limit fuel consumption.

Gores and his family moved to New Canaan in 1948 into a house of his own design. Gores received an award of merit from The American Institute of Architects, which noted the building's use of natural materials and its harmony with the surrounding property. The influence of Frank Lloyd Wright is strongly evident in the house, with its monumental scale, dynamic roof planes, and intimate relationship with the landscape.

In 1951, Gores established his own architectural practice in New Canaan. In 1954, Gores contracted polio; despite the challenges of recovery and confinement to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, his design work continued.

Among his best-known works is the Gores House (1948), still occupied by his wife Pamela, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other notable works include Strathmore Village (1967) and Van Doren Hospital (1974) in Fairfield, Connecticut, and the middle school and science buildings of the New Canaan Country School (1961). During the 1940s and 1950s, Gores served as an instructor and lecturer of architectural design at the Pratt Institute in New York. In 1973, Gores was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.

John M. Johansen (1916 – 2012) was born in New York City in 1916. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College in 1939 and a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1942, where he studied under Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). In 1967, Jean Ely noted that Johansen "was perhaps the most thoroughly indoctrinated, educated into the Gropius-Breuer framework of thought and design" out of the Harvard Five members who had studied at Harvard. After receiving his degree, Johansen worked as a draftsman for Marcel Breuer and then for the National Housing Agency in Washington, D.C., as part of the war effort. After World War II, he moved to New York City and was hired by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM).

In 1948, after working for SOM for three years, he decided to open a practice in New Canaan, Connecticut. Johansen was part of the first wave of Modern architects to settle in the town and is considered one of the "Harvard Five." He was persuaded to settle down in New Canaan after a visit to his fellow architect and friend Eliot Noyes (1910-1977), who lived and practiced in the small town. Johansen purchased over nine acres on Ponus Ridge Road and constructed his own home in 1951 (no longer extant).

His design work includes residential, commercial, educational, ecclesiastical, and civic projects. Acclaimed projects include the U.S. Embassy (1964) in Dublin, Ireland, and the Goddard Library (1968) at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. His most published residential project in New Canaan was the Warner House (1956). The Mummer's Theater (1970) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is considered to be his most influential building. Now called the Oklahoma Theater Center, it was designed in 1966 and completed in 1970. The building received a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1972.

During his career, Johansen taught at several educational institutions including Harvard University, Columbia University, MIT, Yale University, the Carnegie Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and the Pratt Institute, where he served as a teacher for fifty years. Numerous articles by Johansen have been published in professional and scholarly journals, and he is the author of two books: John Johansen: A Life in the Continuum of Modern Architecture (1995) and Nanoarchitecture: A New Species of Architecture (2002). In 2006, Johansen spoke at a symposium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design titled "Beyond the Harvard Box," which examined the work of six architects who had studied under Walter Gropius: Johansen, I.M. Pei, Ulrich Franzen, Victor Lundy, Edward L. Barnes, and Paul Rudolph. At this symposium, Johansen emphasized the diversity in the Modern movement in New Canaan and the surrounding areas, which extended beyond the Bauhaus indoctrination. Honors include an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the Maryland Institute and Clark University, an Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects, and the Gold Medal from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Bimel Kehm (1907 – 1996) was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1907. He studied at the University of Illinois, the Académie Julian in Paris, France, and Yale University, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree. Kehm went on to pursue successful careers in sculpture, painting, and architecture.

Kehm's post-World-War-II architectural designs were lauded for their thoughtful blend of Modern with traditional elements. In his residential work, he did not attempt to use revivalist styles in order to imitate older homes, but was able to incorporate new technologies and ideas about space, while using traditional materials to give a sense of comfort and warmth. The incorporation of these ideals, as well as his attention to landscape features, is evident in the conversion of an old barn into his own living space and studio in New Canaan (1946, unknown if house is still extant); this house was featured in a 1947 article in House and Garden. In 1951, he moved into the newly built Kehm House (1951), which he also likely designed.

Hugh Smallen (1919 -1990) was born in New York City in 1920. He received a degree in architecture from Yale University in 1947 after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Following graduation, he went to work for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). In 1949, Smallen met his future wife, Kathryn Kroher Lapham, who was then employed as an assistant to Hans Knoll of the furniture company Knoll International. In the early 1950s, Smallen and his wife, who became his professional collaborator, moved to Florida and established an architectural and interior design business. They also opened a store called the "Design Collaborative," an innovative effort for the time, which focused exclusively on contemporary furniture and art objects.

In 1954, the Smallens relocated their design business to New Canaan, Connecticut. Smallen initially worked for Eliot Noyes and Associates but eventually left to open his own office. Hugh Smallen and Associates focused on residential design and completed projects in New Canaan such as the Tatum House (1962), Becker House (1963-64), and Parsons House (1964), as well as the design and construction of his own home (Smallen House, 1957). Smallen's office also served as interior and industrial design consultant to a number of U.S. corporations. An interesting example of this was late-1960s collaboration with Charles and Ray Eames's design firm for an IBM exhibition titled "The History of the Computer." Smallen's work as an architect and interior designer was widely published in magazines and newspapers.

Edward Durell Stone (1902 – 1978) was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1902. He studied architecture at the Boston Architectural Club and was later employed by Beaux-Arts architect Henry Shepley (1887-1962). He entered Harvard University Faculty of Architecture to obtain his Masters degree, but transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to study with Jacques Carlu (1890-1976), a professor of modern design. He went on to have a long and influential career distinguished by its distinctive and oppositional phases.

After two years of travel in Europe on scholarship, Stone returned to the United States and assisted in the design of Rockefeller Center; most notably, in the design of the interior of Radio City Music Hall. His first residence was the Mandell House (1933), a Modern concrete-and-glass structure in Mount Kisco, New York. His early works reflected an influence by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and earned him enough admiration in the architectural community that he was commissioned to design the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York with Phillip L. Goodwin (1885-1958) in 1939.

During the 1940s, Stone developed an interest in indigenous materials and settings, but this shift was nowhere near as dramatic as his great transition in the 1950s from the forefront of the International Style to an embrace of ornate, romantic, and monumental designs. This metamorphosis has been long attributed to his marriage to his second wife, Maria Elena Torchio, in 1950. A fashion writer, she expressed her preference for more ornate architecture and not long after they married, his designs began to reflect a disenchantment with stark Modernism in favor of decoration and populism. His first major work in this style was the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India (1954), a white, columned box with an overhanging rectangular canopy, facades composed of lacy, concrete grilles, and surrounding fountains; these elements were designed to enhance ventilation and screen sunlight. According to Stone, Wright called it "one of the finest buildings of the past hundred years." Many of the embassy's themes and motifs were repeated for the rest of Stone's career with mixed results.

These later works were mostly deprecated by architectural critics, but were well-received by the general public. Ada Louise Huxtable denounced the John F. Kennedy Center (1969) in Washington, DC, as "the biggest box in the world." Nonetheless, Stone received major commissions around the world for the rest of his career. Other famous works include: 2 Columbus Circle (1962) and the General Motors Building (1968), both in New York City, the Florida State Capitol (1969), and the campus of the State University of New York at Albany (1963).