the kniffin house
Marcel Breuer AND Eliot Noyes on today’s claass HAUS.
Designed in 1948 by Marcel Breuer and Eliot Noyes of the Harvard Five, the Catherine and Ogden Kniffin House was one of New Canaan, Connecticut’s early Modernist experiments. Bringing clean lines, spatial efficiency, and simple forms to the leafy colonial hamlet (a hamlet that would become an iconic laboratory for architectural innovation), the Breuer and Noyes design reinterpreted American domesticity, combining glass and geometry with natural materials to create a Modern aesthetic steeped in the local vernacular.
Based on Breuer’s "bi-nuclear" design scheme, the Kniffin House was rooted in Constructivism, its flexible and adaptable geometry achieving an ideal balance for the modern family. In many ways a realization of Breuer’s House in the Garden (an exhibition piece for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that sought to revolutionize the American home), the Kniffin House explicitly expressed the various functions of daily life by carefully organizing them into distinctive zones. In plan, the Kniffin House resembled a staggered series of boxes, its separate spaces connected by a narrow entry vestibule and stone courtyard. On the first floor, the children’s playroom and bedrooms, an open living room, and utility spaces fell into three zones, while hovering above, a second story contained a private study and master bedroom. Though the design revolved around convenience of operation and separation of domestic tasks, Breuer and Noyes still managed to create a residential plan that was effortlessly open and adaptable, the ideal modern home for a young, growing family.
Although the Kniffin House was widely published at the time of its completion in 1948, it was eventually demolished (I'm still trying to figure out what replaced it), one of many innovative (but unappreciated) Modernist homes discarded in the late decades of the twentieth century. But its philosophical sibling, Breuer's House in the Garden, does survive and still embodies many of the same principles of the lost Breuer and Noyes design. You can read more about the restored House in the Garden here.
Image at top:
View from the South, Kniffin House. Marcel Breuer Digital Archive, Syracuse University Library.
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