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Modernism on the East Coast

Conference Round Up Day 1: Modernism on the East Coast – Philip Johnson and the Harvard Five

Our biannual international conference in Norwalk (New Canaan), CT, highlighted the important contribution of this talented group of architects - while sharing the knowledge and experience of the experts and enthusiasts preserving this unique residential heritage.

Your Verdict - A Runaway Success!

'A thrill'...'Wonderful!'...'Energizing and encouraging'...'A great opportunity to meet and learn from others'... 'Impressive'...'An unforgettable experience!'...'A great inspiration!'...'A special, family atmosphere!'...'Seamless and truly rich'...

These were just some of your comments on the conference. See your comments in full here - and, if you haven't already done so, please send us your feedback.

See our sizzle reel of the lecture part of the conference here and for the complete photo gallery, including the house tours, follow this link.

 

The day-by-day schedule of the Fifth International Iconic Houses Conference can be found here

Retracing the route taken by Modernism on its arrival on the East Coast of the USA, the Fifth International Iconic Houses Conference took as one of its main themes Philip Johnson and the Harvard Five.

In the 1940s, this group of five modern architects from Harvard, all of whom were inspired by Bauhaus, settled in the bucolic town of New Canaan, CT, where they stirred up an experimental modernist movement in the sleepy New England town. Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores, John Johansen and Philip Johnson established what would become a centre of experimental Modern residential design. Their informal network later became known, of course, as the Harvard Five.

Our conference offered insights into the role of architect Philip Johnson and the Harvard Five in the 20th century, and their enduring relevance today. Their unique houses were the focus of our conference lectures and house tours. Over 100 iconic house owners, house museum managers and curators, experts and enthusiasts gathered together to visit the homes, sharing experiences, challenges and successes in the light of the Harvard Modernists - some of whom, like Marcel Breuer, had a global impact, working in Latin America (the subject of our second conference theme) and mentoring architects who took their influence still further afield.

Many of the tours included homes not normally open to the public, and often we were welcomed  by the house residents themselves - including Roland Reisley of the Reisley House in Usonia, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. A Q&A session with Reisley and Lynda Waggoner (of Fallingwater) at the VIP Kick-Off (held at Richard Meier's Smith House) explored the amazing adventure of being Lloyd Wright's client. Unique insights like Reisley's abounded. Frederick Noyes was another example, showing us round the house his father built, the Noyes House II, which remains a family home.

Keynote Address by Terence Riley:
Philip Johnson - Portrait of the Curator as a Young Man

In the lecture hall too, speakers gave us the inside story. Keynote speaker Terence Riley - although unable to be physically present due to adverse weather conditions - kept us spellbound with tales of Philip Johnson's formative years, building up a picture of the unique qualities that led to his staggering influence on American architecture over four decades. In the panel discussion that followed, moderated by Hilary Lewis, Chief Curator & Creative Director at The Glass House, plus architects John Arbuckle, President of DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State, Stover Jenkins, co-author of The Houses of Philip Johnson and William D. Earls, explored more facets of the important architect and the Harvard Five.

In addition, architect Frederick Noyes told us about his childhood home, the Noyes House II (1954) in New Canaan. Designed by his father Eliot Noyes and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the house’s unique composition — two enclosures for public and private functions connected by an open air courtyard — remains highly provocative.

Then we heard from Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows, the private owners of the Hodgson House (1951), designed by Philip Johnson in New Canaan. They are in the process of restoring the house meticulously, and they told us how their curatorial approach is bringing the house into line with 21st-century requirements.

Watch the conference lectures on Johnson and the Harvard Five (below), or follow this link to all the video lectures.

Terence Riley Panel Discussion 
Frederick Noyes Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows 

Click on the photos for conference words of welcome from Iconic Houses founder Natascha Drabbe, plus an interview with Tim McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation, our conference Lead Sponsor

 
Natascha Drabbe, Conference Chair, founder Iconic Houses Tim McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation  

Click on the photos below to read our interviews with the speakers

Natascha DrabbeTerence Riley 
Hilary LewisStover Jenkins 
William D. EarlsJohn Arbuckle 
Frederick NoyesCraig Bassam and Scott Fellows 

House Tours

The House Tours in the afternoon explored four private houses designed by Philip Johnson in New Canaan: the Alice Ball House, Boissonnas House, Hodgson House, and the iconic Glass House.

The Ball House is one of five Philip Johnson houses in the New Canaan area, situated on the most coveted street and built immediately after the completion of the Glass House. A minimal and modest house, it is surrounded by multi-milion-dollar mansions. Current owner architect Reja Bakh explained to us his plans to leave the house intact while building another house of his own design to the rear of the site. A way to preserve the Johnson property could be to use it as a show house or art gallery.

The opportunity to tour the world-famous Glass House was a major reason to hold our conference in New Canaan. One of the few houses on our tour schedule that is actually a house museum, it opened to the public in 2007. Its design is simple: an open plan, interrupted only by a circular brick bathroom and with a kitchen concealed under a sleek walnut folding bar. Ventilation is provided by floor-to-ceiling doors on all sides that can be opened to the elements. With this house and 14 other structures he designed for the 49-acre site, Johnson created a fascinating private world here for himself and his friends.

One of Philip Johnsons's other masterpieces is the Boissonnas House. Owners Bill Matassoni and Pam Valentine welcomed each of our groups personally and after their introduction allowed us discover the grounds. The house is in perfect condition and very liveable. A nice detail is that the kitchen remains in its original state, revealing the simpler requirements of that time. An easy and practical solution involved putting two small ovens in here, in place of one big one. In most cases, the kitchen - like the bathroom - is the first to go. This solution ensures that the rhythm of the cabinets remains intact, while enabling the required oven capacity.

The residents of the Hodsgon House are renovating the building expertly and lovingly. Architect Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows tell us all about it in their lecture, and they were both present during our tour.


Click on the above photo for the complete photo gallery

Save the Date: Our Next Conference!

Our Sixth International Conference will take place on May 11 - 18, 2020, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. See you there!

Stay tuned for regular updates about our next conference and Iconic Houses lecture series and sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Posted on 19 July 2018