In honor of Charles Goodman's birthday this week, let's take another look at the architect's own house in Alexandria, Virginia.
One of America's most prolific purveyors of postwar modernism, Washington D.C.-area architect, Charles M. Goodman made it his life’s mission to bring modern architecture to the middle-class masses. Designing the American dream, Goodman transformed suburbia by developing his own accessible brand of modernism, one that favored openness in plan, natural materials, and a strong connection to nature. But for all of his affordable, forward-looking suburban designs (see Hollin Hills), Goodman’s own house in Alexandria, Virginia, stands as something quite radical. A project that in many ways defied the prevailing ahistorical dogma of Modernism (a philosophy he worked so hard to adapt for commercial appeal), the Goodman House stands as a striking juxtaposition of new and old, modern and vernacular.
In 1946, Charles Goodman and his wife purchased a circa 1870s farmhouse on a sprawling 7-acre site outside of Old Town Alexandria. After living in the house for a few years, Goodman began renovating the property to reflect his own minimalist approach to design. Rather than building anew in avoidance of historical references like many of his contemporaries, Goodman merged the traditional fabric of the existing Victorian-era farmhouse with a Modern glass pavilion, a gutsy move that seems almost antithetical to the predominant architectural ethos.
In some ways, the Goodman House looks a lot like the successful preservation projects of today- an intact historic structure seamlessly integrated with an addition of its own time, a successful fusion of old and new. But the house would have looked particularly jarring at the time of its construction, a time when historic preservation had not yet gained a predominate place within the collective American psyche. Working within the original structure, Goodman preserved and reused much of the existing farmhouse, altering little of the floorplan. Though he left the Victorian-era house mostly intact, Goodman designed a dramatic addition- the one-story glass pavilion- that was everything the farmhouse was not. Like Mies’ Farnsworth House, Goodman’s transparent pavilion blurred the line between inside and outside, embracing prefabricated materials, stark forms, and the natural site.
In order to both express and expose the structure, Goodman designed the 34-foot-by-20-foot pavilion as a series of prefabricated sections inset with fixed glass, sliding glass, or wooden panels. The interior's floor-to-ceiling windows and rich, natural materials (like stone and wood paneling) connect the glass box to the surrounding landscape, creating a feeling of transparency and openness. Distorting the concept of shelter, the light and airy industrial pavilion stands in direct contrast to the opaqueness of the Victorian weatherboard structure, a modern statement in a traditional setting.
In modernizing his Virginia farmhouse, Goodman completely transformed the site's spatial experience by relocating the main entrance of the original house to the new glass pavilion. As one approaches the addition and steps over its modern threshold, the home slowly unfolds, transitioning from new to old with a series of visual cues. Respecting the existing historic structure but also making an ambitious Modernist gesture, Goodman creates a cohesive architectural expression that melds Modernism with tradition. In an act of preservation (again, pretty atypical for the time), Goodman seeks to define a new, modern vernacular that both honors the history of the property and advocates for a frank and economical approach to design. Part Modern pavilion and part Victorian farmhouse, the Goodman residence is a strikingly rare example of Modernism confronting its historical past. And for me, it is one of the architect's most fascinating projects.
Widely published at the time (I often wonder what other architects thought of the project), the Goodman House stands apart from Modern architecture’s usual approach to the historical landscape. Both glass box and farmhouse, the project steps toward the future without forgetting the past. Today, though Goodman is best known for his affordable production homes, the architect’s own house is perhaps his most revolutionary, a place where the possibility of modern and traditional could exist simultaneously.
The Goodman House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 and remains a private residence. You can read more about the great Charles Goodman here. Or just watch this short clip below.
Photograph at top:
The Charles M. Goodman House, c. 1954. From the Robert C. Lautman Photography Collection, National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
A version of this post was orginally published on January 29, 2018.
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