New Canaan is famous as the home of the “Harvard Five,” a group of architects that included Marcel Breuer, John Johannsen, Philip Johnson, Landis Gores, and Eliot Noyes. During the 1950’s these mid-century “good-life” modernists promulgated an experimental residential design theory and program for modern, single-family residential life. All built homes in New Canaan and several projects, including the Glass House (Johnson), the Courtyard House (Noyes), and the Breuer House (Breuer), have become icons of Mid-Century American Modernism. This project seeks to extend the experimental social, historical, and aesthetic legacy of the Harvard Five and their mid-century, good-life, modern houses not just into the new millennium but also directly into the town of New Canaan – two boundaries past which modernism had not ventured before.
Conceived from the outset as a speculative in-town-house set within walking distance of Main Street, the train station, and the library, the project took seriously the idea of social and environmental sustainability as a generator and incubator. The key perceptual operations involve bifurcation and attenuation. A long, narrow lot required a program and spatial strategy that deployed a vertical organization and sectional strategy to optimize and maximize the narrow front, side, and rear yards for parking, outdoor gardens, natural light, and views. The key spatial device and invention was to produce a sectional cut by “flipping” the bi-nuclear plan of a mid-century modern house on its side (see Noyes’s Courtyard House).
The intentional displacement and provocation allowed for a reorganization, connection, and even further attenuation of the living spaces of the house, producing a vertical slot that progressively splays open as the structure moves towards the rear south-facing end of the lot. This continuous gap in plan promotes the flow of natural light, air, and atmospheric views between the bifurcated living spaces and the outdoor garden space; it further allows light and views deep into the interiors of the house. The vertical light/view slot puts nature to “work” and “in play,” with unexpected perceptual effects that give the interior spaces of the house a more open, elastic, and polymorphic feel.
Photography by © Michael Biondo
© David Sundberg / Esto