Saturday, June 15, 2013


On a recent visit to Kansas City, Missouri I spent five days taking photos of art tile and terra cotta installations, and Kansas City architecture in general. Probably the most iconic of the Kansas City structures for me was the Liberty Memorial (c. 1922-1926) designed by New York architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle (1867-1935). (My wife is writing a monograph about this architect, and this was the reason for our trip to Kansas City.)

(Color photos courtesy Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)
The Liberty Memorial (now combined with the National World War I Museum) is built on the crest of a hill overlooking downtown Kansas City. Just below the Liberty Memorial is Jarvis Hunt’s Union Station (1915). As passengers walked out the front entrance of Union Station, the first thing they’d see was the Liberty Memorial. “The station, still attached to an Amtrak depot, now houses the kid-friendly Science City, vintage rail cars, a planetarium, and live theater at City Stage.” (

Jarvis Hunt's Union Station. This building was "designed for trains to actually pass through it. Its innovative design consisted of six stories with separate levels for passengers, waiting rooms and baggage."  (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 45)

There are two shrouded sphinxes and two exhibition buildings on the main level, along with the Memorial Tower and its four sculpted guardians.

The interior of one of the buildings on the main concourse.

In downtown Kansas City there are a number of historic buildings. Below is the New York Life Insurance building, 20 West 9th Street. “The ten-story brick and brownstone tower, which was completed in 1890, is generally regarded as Kansas City's first skyscraper and was the first building in the city equipped with elevators. It was commissioned by the New York Life Insurance Company, which also used that design to build an identical building in Omaha at the same time. ...The building was designed in 1885 by Frederick Elmer Hill (1857–1929), of the New York City architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White. ...Built in Italianate Renaissance Revival style, the building has a brick and brownstone exterior and an H-shaped footprint with ten story wings flanking a twelve story tower. A monumental eagle tending eaglets in a nest is perched above the main entry. The work was sculpted by Louis St. Gaudens… . ...The New York Life Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, but was abandoned in 1988. In 1996, a $35 million restoration of the building added state-of-the-art energy, communications, and environmental features. In 2010, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph purchased the building for $11.7 million. It now houses the diocese's administrative offices (the chancery) and the local branch of Catholic Charities… .” (,_Missouri))

"Extravagant terra cotta ornament and brickwork flank the upper facade[,...and interior] features include outstanding tile work that was completed by Russian immigrants." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 17)

And, in the same area--The Library District, at 912 Baltimore Street, is the Union Carbide Building, designed in 1931 by William A. Bovard, and now repurposed as condos. “This historic Art Deco building at 9th and Baltimore, near the newly renovated Central Library, is listed in the National Register of Historical Places, and also was listed among 25 structures worth saving in the central business district by the KC Chapter of the AIA. The 11-story building’s first floor has been carefully restored at the entry where it had once been modernized. The juxtaposition of old and new is apparent from first glance in the lobby: Polished brass, terrazzo floors and painstakingly restored Egyptian-motif detailed ceilings coexist nicely with key-card controlled access glass security doors with minimalist polished nickel  handles.” ( building has been combined with the historic Larue Printing Building (built in 1910) next door at 908 Baltimore Avenue, which allowed for “three floors of office space and seven floors of residential condominium units… ." (Dan Nenonen, “Old and Improved”, Commercial Journal, Vol. 6, No. 5, Aug-Sept 2010, pp. 14-15)

Terra Cotta along the parapet of the Union Carbide Building. (Photo courtesy of Michael D Morse)

Also, there are art deco terra cotta panels between the second floor windows.

"The geometric foliate terra cotta panels that decorate the stepped cornice and first two stories express the Art Deco styling of this 11-story building." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 25)

(Photo courtesy of Michael D Morse)

A few blocks away is the restored Hotel President at 1329 Baltimore Avenue. “The hotel was completed in 1926. In 1928, it served as the headquarters for the 1928 Republican National Convention, which nominated Herbert Hoover for president. The hotel's Drum Room lounge attracted entertainers from across the country, including Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Marilyn Maye. The Hotel President was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.” ( The building architects were Shepard & Wiser.

”The President Hotel...typifies the qualities and associations present during the grand hotel era. The architecture of the building is replete with terra cotta and stone ornamentation, forming gables, colonettes, medallions, quatrefoils, string courses and friezes across the facade. The elaborate architectural embellishments testify to an opulent period in Kansas City's history. ...The facade derives its primary ornamentation from the use of terra cotta molding which enframes the window groupings on the 2nd and 3rd stories of the north, south, and west facades. The windows are further embellished by the use of decorative wrought iron railings and the spiral columnettes which flank them. The ground story is faced with a contrasting lighter colored stone on the north, south and west facades. A banded terra cotta frieze forms a string course above the 12th floor. Above this the pedimented windows are surmounted by an intermittent balustrade and quatrefoils. Terra cotta coping follows the line of the parapet wall.”  (“Downtown Hotels in Kansas City, Missouri”, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, 1981;

And just across the street is the Kansas City Power and Light Building at 1330 Baltimore Avenue/106 S. 14th Street. “The building was designed by the Kansas City architecture firm of Hoit, Price and Barnes [in 1931]… .” ( principals of the firm were Henry F. Hoit (1873-1951), Edwin Price (1885-1957) and Alfred E. Barnes (1892-1960). The firm was noted for its Art Deco style. (,_Price_and_Barnes)

The building’s crown is a high central tower set on an octagonal base. Sculptured rays of sunlight symbolize electricity, and a pattern of lightning bolts occurs within each of the tower’s tall windows.” (David Gebhard, The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996, p. 138)
“The design of the Power and Light Building is a mix of Art Deco and Neo Gothic. Materials used include limestone, steel and concrete. The building also holds over 230,000 square feet of office space. It was originally planned as a twin to another building that would have been placed west of it. However, that plan didn't [ out], and the Power and Light Building now stands with almost it's entire western wall lacking windows. During the rise of suburbs and the decay of the inner-cities, this was one of the few buildings in Downtown Kansas City that didn't lose their primary tenants. This building reigned as Missouri's tallest habitable building for 45 years from 1931 to 1976… .” ( 

Art Deco motifs over the main entrance.

Another office building at 1103 Grand Boulevard, The Professional Building, also has an art deco terra cotta facade. “The Professional Building is significant for both architectural and historical reasons. First, as designed in 1929 by the prominent local architects Charles A. Smith and George A. Mclntyre, the Professional Building is one of Kansas City's earliest examples of Modernistic architecture. ...American architects, unlike the Europeans, placed less emphasis on stylistic consistency in their designs, exhibiting a greater concern for modernity and the ways in which it could be expressed through decoration. These new ideas alleviated the architect's burden of having to adapt past styles to modern requirements (when commissions permitted) and stimulated the growth of the modern movement in architecture. The Professional Building and those Modernistic structures that followed its lead in Kansas City during the 1930's, notably City Hall, the Jackson County Courthouse, Municipal Auditorium, the Kansas City Power and Light Building and the Bryant Building,are all fine representations of the new stylistic sentiment. Secondly, the historical importance of the Professional Building lies in its recognition as the first medical building designed exclusively for the use of doctors and dentists in Kansas City.” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

“Charles A. Smith (1866-1948) is best known as the architect of many of the Kansas City public schools. He was associated with William F. Hackney from 1887 until Hackney's death in 1898. That year he replaced Hackney as architect for the school board. From 1910 to 1920 he was a member of the prominent Kansas City firm of Smith, Rea, and Lovitt. In addition to schools, Smith designed numerous residences, apartments, churches and commercial buildings in Kansas City. A 1913 graduate of the University of Illinois, George E. Mclntyre (1884-1965) was associated for a number of years with the Smith, Rea, and Lovitt firm, and later with Charles A. Smith, as an architectural engineer. In later years he opened his own architectural practice” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

”The building is constructed primarily of reinforced concrete and steel. Red and buff colored brick and Bedford stone comprise exterior facing with buff colored glazed terracotta, painted wood and steel, marble and granite being used for decorative detailing. As an example of the Modernistic style, the Professional Building is characterized by an
emphatic verticality enhanced on the west and north faces by the uninterrupted treatment of the piers which give the building as a whole the appearance of having been hewn from a single tall block of material. ...The Modernistic decorative treatment of the west and north facades is evidenced in the combination of both rectilinear and curving geometric motifs carved in bas relief with a flat front plane. This type of ornament, arranged in horizontal bands flanking doors and windows, is coupled with square and oblong blocks of cut stone disposed symmetrical around the principal entrances and forms the crenelated parapet on top of the building. The piers are left unadorned with the exception of some decorative detailing near the top. The spandrels show one of two types of decoration: either a complimentary bas relief or bands of plain undulating cut stone.” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

Fairbanks, Morse & Co.
"The flat flood plains at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers provided a promising site for the development of the manufacturing, cattle and trade industries in what came to be known as the West Bottoms." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 53)
In the West Bottoms many buildings have been repurposed and are now part of a growing arts and cultural area. The Fairbanks, Morse & Co. building, 1300 Liberty, was being rehabilitated when I visited. “Fairbanks Morse and Company was an American manufacturing company in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally a weighing scale manufacturer, it later diversified into pumps, engines, windmills, locomotives and industrial supplies until it was merged in 1958.” ( The local Fairbanks-Morse branch was founded in 1889.

1401 West 13th Street

Built in 1902, this terra-cotta and brick building near Liberty Avenue and West 13th Street is now the home of the largest haunted house in the country. This building was once owned, and built by John Deere & Company.

“[John Deere & Co.] was originally established by John Deere at Grand Detour, IL., in 1837, and ten years later was taken over by a co-partnership known as Deere, Tate & Gould, and removed to its present location at Moline, IL. The name of this co-partnership was subsequently changed to John Deere & Co.” ( John Deere’s son, Charles, managed the business in the later 1800s. “[...Charles’] method of branch organization was a partnership… . The first of these organizations was made up of executives of John Deere, Inc. acting in a partnership...with Alvah Mansur in Kansas City in 1869.” (John S. Wagle, “CHARLES DEERE CULTIVATES A MARKETING REVOLUTION”; Thus, the “1837” and “1902” on the sides of the entrance.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum

Kansas City is also the home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum, both of which are housed in the same building at 1616 East 18th Street in the 18th and Vine Historic District. "The complex[, designed by Gould Evans Goodman Associates in 1997,] incorporates two existing buildings with new construction. An arched entry forms a gateway into the transparent glass cube lobby." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 76)

“The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 by a group of former Negro Leagues baseball players, including Kansas City Monarchs outfielder, Alfred Surratt, Buck O'Neil, and Horace Peterson. The museum resides in...the hub of African-American cultural activity in Kansas City during the first half of the 20th century.” (

The Gem Theater

Across the street from the Museum is the Gem Theater, 1615 West 18th Street, a restored jazz and cultural venue. “Constructed in 1912 using Baroque-style architecture, this local landmark in the historic 18th & Vine District was once a movie house. In lieu of recent renovations, it is now a live jazz, dance and theater performance space open for private booking with a 500 person capacity. Most notably, it is home to the "Jammin' at the Gem" series organized by the American Jazz Museum.” ( “Opened in 1912 as the Star Theatre, it was renamed Gem Theatre in 1913. It got a facade facelift in 1923. The Gem Theatre was built for use by African-American audiences and had a seating capacity for 1,414. Movies continued until the mid-1970’s and then went to live performances. Since 1997, after a detailed renovation to create a 500-seat performance space which removed most of the original interior, it has been a venue for the American Jazz Museum located across the street. [...One comment about the restoration states:] 'This theatre has a Vitrolite tile exterior. The work was done by Tim Dunn, Vitrolite specialist located in St. Louis MO.'” ( “[Tim Dunn] commuted regularly from St. Louis to replace the dust rose Vitrolite pigmented plate glass [on the Gem’s facade] that is no longer produced.” (Laura R. Hockaday, “Gala at Gem Theatre marks district's cultural renaissance”, The Kansas City Star, August 31, 1997;

“Dunn's business occupies a specialized niche. He buys, sells and restores pigmented structural glass. Most people know this material, if they know it at all, by the trade names under which it was sold, which include Vitrolite, Carrera Glass, and Sani Onyx.
This colored opaque glass was popular on the exteriors (and, less so, in the interiors) of many early-20th-century buildings, especially those in art deco, streamline. and moderne styles. A sort of blemish-free everyman's marble, it was in particular vogue as a facing on the storefronts of bakeries, drugstores, and jewelry shops. Fearful of being left behind, Main Street businesses would often slap up a veneer of Vitrolite to hide their 19th-century masonry dowdiness. In a few instances, new movie palaces went big into Vitrolite and covered their entire facades with the material. ...His first big project was the restoration of the Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo., and soon after he undertook the restoration of the Ritz Theater in Talladega, Ala., a three-story Vitrolite fantasy sliced with bands of neon. ...Part of Dunn's job is ensuring a ready supply of Vitrolite for his restoration work, which presents some logistical considerations, since the material hasn't been manufactured since 1947. You can still import new colored glass from the Czech Republic, but it's thinner, the hues don't match up with its historical counterparts (the new black is really a deep purple) and it is available in only six colors. At its peak, Vitrolite was available in 40.” (

Mainstreet Theater

“The Mainstreet Theater, also commonly referred to as The Empire Theater, is a historic theater located at 1400 Main Street in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The theater was landmarked and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2007. Designed by Rapp & Rapp, the 90, opened on October 30, 1921 as the Mainstreet Missouri. The 3,200 seat theater was a popular vaudeville and movie house, and the only theater in Kansas City designed by Chicago firm Rapp and Rapp. The interior of the theater was designed in French Baroque style, and the exterior is a blend of neoclassical and French Second Empire. The lobby is topped by a dome encircled by circular windows. ...The Mainstreet was the first theater in Kansas City to have a nursery for children whose parents were attending a show. ...A tunnel connected the lower level of the theater to the nearby President Hotel at 14th and Baltimore. The tunnel was initially created as a means for actors to enter the theater from dressing rooms, but the tunnel also became infamous as a passage for bootleggers to escape police during Prohibition. ...The theater also had space in the basement and sub-basement where animals were kept for vaudeville shows.” (

1720 Wyandotte Street

In the 1930s the one-story building at 1720 Wyandotte Street was known as the 20th Century Fox Building, and was part of Kansas City’s “Film Row”. “In the Film Row neighborhood where the Vitagraph building is located [at 1703 Wyandotte Street, Vitagraph] stands as the most elaborate example of [the Art Deco] architectural idiom, albeit at the cusp of the trend toward the International Style. Among the other Art Deco inspired buildings in Film Row[,…] including Orion Pictures (120 W. 17"' Street), 20"' Century Fox (1720 Wyandotte Street), Commonwealth Theatres (215 W. 18"' Street), Vitagraph is most expressive of the principles of the Art Deco; the later named buildings, with their all but rejection of decor, use of glass block and curved facades, lean toward the sleekness of the Art Moderne/streamline style of architecture.” (“Vitagraph Film Exchange Building”, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Section 8, Page 19;

1819-21 Wyandotte Street

1819-21 Wyandotte Street, is ornamented with polychrome terra cotta and faience. This building is also located in Kansas City’s old “Film Row” district, now the Crossroads Art District.

Webster School, 1644 Wyandotte Street

Webster School “is constructed of pressed brick laid in common bond throughout most of the structure and patterned brick in some areas. ...The building consists of two rectangular pavilions connected by a narrow passageway… . ...Rooms in both pavilions are arranged symmetrically about a longitudinal axis a characteristic often found in Richardsonian Romanesque buildings. Also characteristic are the bulky massing and roofline broken by gabled wall dormers on the east and west and by conical roofs of flanking stair towers on the north and south. ...The Webster School is significant because of its architectural style. it is one of a few surviving of the many that were built in the 1880s in Kansas City that were executed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It is also significant as one of the oldest school buildings in Kansas City. ...The building was designed by Manuel A. Diaz, the school board architect. Diaz (who listed himself as a civil engineer in the City Directory) was the first person to hold that position. ...Webster School was a part of the Kansas City school system for 45 years, serving a neighborhood characterized by workingmen's houses, small apartments and commercial buildings.” (Joan L. Michalak, “Webster School, 1644 Wyandotte, Kansas City, Missouri”, National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form, 1981) The Webster School is now known as Webster House and is an upscale restaurant in the Crossroads Art District.

Kansas City is famous for its barbeque restaurants. One of the most popular is Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue.

Although it looks deserted, it was jumping inside.

Part-II will conclude my architectural visit to Kansas City.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Modern Houses in New Caanan, Connecticut

The building of mid-century modern homes in New Caanan, Connecticut began after a group of architects associated with Harvard University began to settle in the area in the 1940s. “The Harvard Five [...included] John M. Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes. Marcel Breuer was an instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, while Gores, Johansen, Johnson and Noyes were students there. They were all influenced by Walter Gropius, a leader in the Bauhaus movement and the head of the architecture program at Harvard. The small town of New Canaan is nationally recognized for its many examples of modern architecture. Approximately 100 modern homes were built in town, including Johnson's Glass House and the Landis Gores House, and about 20 have been torn down. ...Other notable architects lived in New Canaan and designed residences for themselves and clients there, including John Black Lee, Hugh Smallen, Victor Christ-Janer, Alan Goldberg, and Carl Koch.” (

(All photos courtesy Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

It took us almost a year to obtain tickets to tour Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1945-49) in New Canaan, Connecticut, but it was well worth the wait. We were on the last tour of the day, and were allowed to take photos of all the buildings we visited because, on the last tour the guides did not have to keep to a strict schedule.

"The Glass House [completed 1949] is best understood as a pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape. ...Each of the four exterior walls is punctuated by a centrally located glass door that opens onto the landscape. The iconic because of its innovative use of materials and its seemless integration into the landscape. ...Johnson...conceived of it as half a composition, completed by the neighboring Brick [Guest] House." (

As you walk through the front door, you face the “central cylinder” of the house. The central cylinder contains the fireplace and the bathroom with shower stall.

To the left of the central cylinder as you walk in the door is the free-standing, partially “concealed” kitchen.

The appliances were small and fit under the counters so they were hidden from the rest of the house. 

The kitchen from the living room area. The sculpture is by Elie Nadelman.
The dining area was placed in the corner nearest the kitchen. In this photo you can see some of the movable “curtains” that shade the interior and provide a measure of privacy.

The “living room” area utilizes a painting, "The Burial of Phocian", attributed to Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style, as a room divider.

A storage area is within the wood “wall” behind the painting, and the sleeping area is on the other side of that divider.

Johnson’s desk/work area is behind me as I’m taking this photo.

Although it doesn’t look like there’s any privacy from the public, the house is not contiguous to the road and is separated from it by a fence and land. Also, there are the movable window coverings on the inside of the house mentioned above.

Opposite the entrance to the Glass House is Johnson’s Brick/Guest House, 

"A grassy court links the [Glass and Brick Houses] conceived of as a single composition. ...The Brick House contains all the support systems necessary to the function of both buildings. As opposed to the transparency of the Glass House, brick almost completely encases the house." (

and, off to the right of this are “Da Monsta”, the Visitors Center, and Philip Johnson’s Library/Studio.

"Da Monsta" was the third of Johnson's designs for the Visitors' Pavilion (1986-1995). "Johnson...related this the first [on the estate]: the Glass House. Even though the Visitors Pavilion is largely composed of solid walls, its colors--red and black--resonate with the colors and tones Johnson used for the brick and bronze in the Glass House. The pavilion reads as a cave, the place from which human beings emerged to discover architecture... ." (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, pp. 262-263)

Da Monsta
"This building is the closest to Johnson's thinking about sculpture and form at the end of his life--what he called the 'structured warp.' This architectural direction using warped torqued forms is far from the rectilinear shapes of [his] International Style." (

Johnson built the Library as a studio for his own use. "[Its] most notable features are the volume of the studio and its scale. The interior is a single space; the exterior is dominated by two strong vertical elements: a rectangular chimney stack and a conical shape above a curved wall that protrudes from the main body of the studio. Both of these elements denote major features on the interior... . The fireplace under the chimney is a major feature along the west wall, while Johnson's work desk is located under the skylight at the top of the cone." (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 256)

The Library
Along with the separate Library and Da Monsta buildings, there were other structures on the Johnson property. The “Folly” in the lake was one, as was "Frank Gehry’s Ghost House”

The Water/Lake Pavilion or "Folly" on the lake was made more as an adult playhouse than a full-size structure.
"The Water Pavilion [built in 1962] consists of four orthogonal arched structures, two square and two double-square, with an open square at the center of a loose pinwheel arrangement. ...The most remarkable feature of the Water Pavilion, however, is not so much its form as its scale: it has been miniaturized to the point that one must duck one's head to move through the arches... ." (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 246)

"Frank Gehry's Ghost House"
Johnson built the Gehry Ghost House in honor of his friendship with Frank Gehry. The Ghost House was built on the foundation of an old barn and utilized chain link fencing, which Gehry used in a number of his projects to great effect. (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 258)

Entrance to the Art Gallery.

There were also two buildings that housed the art and sculpture collections.  Johnson’s collection contains many works by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and John Chamberlain, among others.

Entrance to the Sculpture Center. The tree to the right is Julian Schnabel’s cast bronze sculpture, "Ozymandias", 1986-1989.

Frank Stella

John Chamberlain

Andy Warhol's "Philip Johnson"

"Johnson's continual investigation into architecture on his estate is noteworthy... .  [...We] are privileged to glimpse the workings of his private laboratory, in which the pavilion projects were experiments for his new investigations into form and material." (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 263)

The Alice Ball House

One of Philip Johnson’s residential commissions in New Caanan was the Alice Ball House (1953), 523 Oenoke Ridge. “In the tradition of Mies van de Rohe's courtyard homes, Philip Johnson designed the Ball House as a modest one-story, two-bedroom home with an offset axial plan, a flat roof, symmetrically arranged terraces with slate paving, and pink stucco wall surfaces relieved by linearly grouped and symmetrically arranged painted entrance ensembles. The entrance ensembles included fixed plate glass windows, glazed narrow-stile doors, fixed or operable transom windows, and screen doors with bronze rails. Skylights above the hall and kitchen provided additional light to interior spaces. A stucco finish chimney projected approximately 3' from the east end of the north facade.” (

The Alice Ball House (1953)
"[...The] Ball House is asymmetrical, but balanced compositionally through its volume, chimney, garden wall, and glazing. This massing, along with its siting, gives the house the feeling of a romantic garden villa... . Contrasting with its diminutive size, the public space opens out to the landscape on opposing sides, allowing a continuity of space through that portion of the house. ...The living area, surrounded by glass on three sides, [] one the impression of being in a little pavilion in the woods." (Stover Jenkins and David Mohney, The Houses of Philip Johnson, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2001, p. 130)

Fenella Pearson of the Norwalk Daily Voice describes her visit to the Alice Ball House: “ When you get out of the car it’s not immediately clear where you’re supposed to go. Where’s the front door? I liked having to figure it out. I found the path and ended up at a huge double glass door flanked by large windows, which led straight into an open living room with stone floors.  A fireplace was off to the left and a partial wall to the right, hiding (sort of) the kitchen. But the most stunning thing was that as you walked into the living room, you still felt as if you were outside, because the rear wall of the house is all glass, and the stone floors continue outdoors as the patio.” ( 

John Black Lee

“Born in Chicago in 1924, John Black Lee enrolled at Brown University in 1942… . After serving in the Navy on the Pacific front during World War II, he resumed his studies at Brown University and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947. In 1948, Walter Gropius (1883-1954) advised Lee to serve as an apprentice rather than enroll in graduate school, so he moved to Chicago to work as a carpenter. His carpentry work caught the eye of Paul Schweikher (1903-1997), the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, who invited Lee to learn architecture and drafting at his firm, Schweikher & Elting… . After leaving Chicago, Lee worked with architects Oskar Stonorov (1905-1970) and Eliot Noyes (1910-1977). ...In 1954, Lee established his own practice in New Canaan, Connecticut. He worked on designing more affordable houses by utilizing his background in engineering to execute costly steel construction techniques in wood.” (

Lee House 2 (1956)
“Lee House 2 was designed by John Black Lee for his family after they had outgrown their first house on Laurel Road. ...This lot was part of the twenty acres on Chichester Road that Lee and Hugh Smallen had purchased in 1954 to be subdivided into six parcels with the provision that the new houses built on the lots were of Modern design. ...The house was built by Ernest Rau [in 1956]. The landscape was designed by Paschall Campbell, who lived in the Campbell House designed by John Johansen (1952, largely demolished and rebuilt as the Goldberg House). Lee House 2 had a rectangular footprint with a veranda extending around the perimeter of the house. The upper roof extended over the veranda and was supported on wood columns. The plan of the house was very symmetrical.” (

“The current owners...bought the property from Lee in 1990. Soon afterwards they commissioned New York City–based Toshiko Mori to renovate the house. Mori...made subtle but significant alterations that included raising the central roof by about 18 inches, thereby enlarging the clerestory, and replacing deteriorated wood columns with stainless steel. [After a tree fell on the house during a storm in 2006, the owners had Kengo] Kuma design...a transparent, L-shaped addition that sits just to the west of the original. The interior is almost entirely open, with very few walls. Instead, stainless steel mesh screens differentiate circulation space from other parts of the program. The structure is composed of steel columns only 3 inches wide and 6 inches deep, with equally minimal steel beams, and a roof supported by exposed glue-laminated spruce joists. The project also entailed modifications to the existing house, such as the replacement of one section of solid exterior wall near the addition with glass, in order to provide more of a visual connection between new and old structures.”  (

Hugh Smallen

Hugh Smallen was “part of the second wave of modernist architects to live and practice in New Canaan. Smallen received his architecture degree at Yale and also trained the Institute of Design in Brooklyn. A brief stint at the renowned firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in New York convinced him that he was a country boy at heart, so he and wife, Kathryn, picked up and moved to New Canaan where he opened his architectural practice… .” (

Smallen House (1957)

”The Smallen House[, 160 Chichester Road,] was designed by architect Hugh Smallen for his family and completed in 1957. ...The builder for the project was Borglum & Meek. ...Geometric in its design, the shed-roofed house is sited to provide one floor of fenestration at its lowest pitch, and two floors of fenestration at its highest pitch. The main entrance is at the slope of the roof and consists of a flush door flanked by fixed sidelights and an irregularly shaped transom that follows the line of the low-pitched shed roof. The entrance is accessed by a wood deck anchored at one end by a mortared stone wall that bridges the slope at the front of the house.” (

Hugh Smallen also designed the Becker House on Chichester Road.

Front view of the Becker House
“The Becker House is set on a hillside overlooking a pond and stream. The street-facing facade of the house is sheltered by a high fieldstone wall. The main entrance is through a narrow opening in the fieldstone wall which leads to a secluded courtyard with a pergola roof. ...The main part of the house is rectangular in plan. At the lower level of the hill, the house is two stories high; this rear wall is heavily glazed. A wood deck extends across the back of the house. The house is clad in flush vertical wood siding, which contrasts with the heavy stone wall and stone base of the building.” (

Side and rear views of the Becker House

Harrison DeSilver

In 1961 John Black Lee and Harrison DeSilver designed the “System House” off Chichester Road.

The System House
”The System House is set on a terraced site with the house placed at a lower grade than the driveway and outbuildings. ...The house has a square-shaped footprint and is very symmetrical. The roof of the building extends beyond the wall plane on all four sides, creating a deep overhang… . The outer edge of the roof is supported on thin piers. The house has a bi-level plan: the main entrance opens onto a stairway that leads upstairs to the bedrooms and downstairs to the public living spaces. ...The house was built to show that good design and construction could be completed at a reasonable price by building on a modular system, in this case, a 6" module. The System was devised to use stock materials to keep costs down. The exterior wood panels were prefabricated in two designs: a solid wall panel and a panel designed for fenestration. To cut down on expensive finishing costs, structural elements were designed to be exposed. ...The windows and doors were replaced in 2006. It appears that no other major alterations have been made to the exterior of the house since its construction." (

“Harrison DeSilver was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1914. He received his degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1953. DeSilver moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1960 after being inspired by his experience on one of the town's famous Modern house tours. After arriving in town, he formed a partnership with architect John Black Lee (1924-) to produce custom Modern homes at a reasonable cost.” (

These are, of course, only a very few of New Caanan’s “Modern Houses”. For information about all of New Caanan’s houses and architects, see the town’s “Modern Homes Survey”.

I would like to thank Beverly and Al Cardone for the Glass House and Modern Homes tours.

A Soviet Constructivist House in Danger

"Designed by the Russian avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov and completed in 1929, the well-known and highly praised Melnikov House [10 Krivoarbatsky Lane, Moscow] currently finds itself in imminent danger." Built for his family, the house is in danger of being damaged by the construction of new buildings on neighboring sites, by years of neglect, and by the illegal use of the Melnikov land for construction purposes. Neither the government of the City of Moscow nor the Russian Federal Government seem interested in preventing damage to this house/museum or in enforcing existing laws that would help to protect it. "The physical deterioration of the house has been exacerbated as a result of August 2012 heavy-handed demolition of neighboring buildings (Arbat 39-41), a scandalous affair on its own. And now there are undeniable (but unrecognized) effects from the construction work, which is going on full speed ahead despite complaints by neighbors and fines against the construction company. Due to this construction work, the building is in serious danger of collapsing." (

Melnikov House, front facade. Part of the second, connected cylinder can be seen at the rear.  (
"Konstantin Stepanovich Melnikov (Russian: Константин Степанович Мельников; August 3 [O.S. July 22] 1890 - November 28, 1974) was a Russian architect and painter. His architectural work, compressed into a single decade (1923–1933), placed Melnikov on the front end of 1920s avant-garde architecture. Although associated with the Constructivists, Melnikov was an independent artist, not bound by the rules of a particular style or artistic group. In [the] 1930s, Melnikov refused to conform with the rising stalinist architecture, withdrew from practice and worked as a portrait painter and teacher until the end of his life. ...The finest existing specimen of Melnikov's work is his own Krivoarbatsky Lane residence in Moscow, completed in 1927-1929, which consists of two intersecting cylindrical towers decorated with a pattern of hexagonal windows. ...Melnikov developed the concept of intersecting cylinders in 1925-1926 for his Zuev Workers' Club draft (he lost the contest to Ilya Golosov). T[he t]win cylinder floorplan was approved by the city in June, 1927 and was revised during construction. The towers, top to bottom, are a honeycomb lattice made of brickwork. 60 of more than 200 cells were glazed with windows (of three different frame designs), the rest filled with clay and scrap. This unorthodox design was a direct consequence of material rationing by the state - Melnikov was limited to brick and wood, and even these were in short supply. The wooden ceilings have no supporting columns, nor horizontal girders. They were formed by a rectangular grid of flat planks, in a sort of orthotropic deck. The largest room, a 50 square meter workshop on the third floor, is lit with 38 hexagonal windows; [the] equally large living room has a single wide window above the main entrance." (

"The 1917 Russian Revolution gave way to a burst of artistic creativity with the Constructivist movement at the forefront. Artists set about to create a new society and nowhere is this more clear than in the avant-garde architecture that was designed in the 1920s and 1930s." ( This house was part of this movement: "These structures were not just reformist in a materials and design sense, they were also socially progressive. They are indicative of a fleeting period in Russia’s history, fabricated to mimic the ideas of the new Socialist Republic. The architecture was intended to be ephemeral, to represent anti-monumentality against the previous monumentality of the Tsarist regime." (

For more photos and information about Soviet Constructivist architecture, see:, and the main site: