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William D. Earls on the Harvard Five in New Canaan
Architect William Earls was responsible for the recent restoration of the Gores Pavilion, by Harvard Five architect Landis Gores. Based in Wilton, CT, he is also the author of the book The Harvard Five in New Canaan. Bill was a panelist at our Fifth International Iconic Houses Conference in New Canaan 15-18 May 2018. The panel discussion can be watched in the (below) link.
|Panel discussion The Harvard Five – The Advent of Modernism in New Canaan|
What first sparked your interest in the Harvard Five?
I was driving around New Canaan and I kept coming across these Modern houses. They were out of favor at the time and seemed forgotten.
So you wrote your book, The Harvard Five in New Canaan, to record them.
Yes. Many of the houses were being torn down and replaced with larger, more traditionally styled houses. I wasn't really sure anyone else cared but me. I wrote the book I thought was interesting.
What were your most intriguing discoveries whilst researching the book?
I was fortunate enough to meet some of the original owners and architects. They felt like the town was their studio back in the day. Everyone talked architecture. Some locals hated the Modern houses and some loved them. I found that level of intensity very exciting.
What made you decide to become an architect?
I've always been interested in making physical objects beautiful. Building is an act of faith in the future, so it is also a very positive profession to be involved in.
As project architect for the restoration of the Gores Pavilion, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
It is a town-owned building, but they didn't appreciate it at first. They wanted to tear it down. Once we showed them that we could renovate it without using tax dollars, they changed their minds.
What are you proudest of concerning the renovation?
I am so happy that the building has a new life as an art gallery and show piece for Modern architecture.
How did the restoration affect your opinion of Landis Gores?
He was trying to reconcile the work of the American Frank Lloyd Wright and the European Mies van der Rohe. Instead of seeing them as opposites, he resolves them into something totally new.
Do you have a favorite Harvard Five house – or indeed architect?
They all have strengths and weaknesses, and are all worthy of further exploration. I’ve just scratched the surface.
What’s the book that still needs to be written about the Modern movement?
We need to take a serious look at what is being built now. I would love it if the public were as excited or outraged at new buildings as they were in New Canaan.
When visiting the Gores Pavilion, what should we notice?
Look at the open trusses overhead in the galleries. That is the structure, which carries the load of the slate roof to the freestanding columns outside of the building. The walls don't hold any weight at all.
What advice do you have for others restoring iconic buildings?
Always strive for simple beauty over novelty. That is what saves the life of a building in the long run.
William recommends watching the trailer of ‘The Harvard 5 – A story of love, design and architecture’ that tells the story of the intellectual and sociological struggle of Eliot Noyes, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and John Johansen that ultimately redefined the significance of the sleepy, New England town of New Canaan.
Photo: William with the Bremer House by Eliot Noyes (New Canaan, CT, USA) in the background.
Publication date 15 February 2018