A home for a member of the Harvard Five.
A modern house that really looks like a house.
House and Home, 1952.
At first glance, the Landis Gores House may not seem very radical. It looks modern, sure, but today, the sprawling ranch-like design also feels really familiar, its accessible architecture "permeated with tradition" (House and Home). Located in the leafy colonial hamlet of New Canaan, Connecticut, the Gores House combines glass and geometry with natural materials and a reverence for nature to create a modern aesthetic steeped in traditional American domesticity. A little less showy than other New Canaan experiments, the Gores House is no transparent box (Philip Johnson's Glass House) or Bauhaus think piece (Marcel Breuer House II). It is, perhaps, something even more significant- a tempered translation of Modernism that anticipated the rise of the American Ranch.
A member of the "Harvard Five" (Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, Eliot Noyes, John Johansen, and Gores), Landis Gores was an architect best known for his superb draftsmanship and precise detailing. Born in Ohio in 1919, Gores attended Princeton University to major in Classics before enrolling in the Harvard Graduate School of Design to study under Bauhaus émigrés Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. It was in this famed program where Gores would meet fellow student Philip Johnson, and the two quickly formed a friendship over their mutual admiration of Mies van der Rohe. Following the war, Gores joined Johnson's practice, and the two worked on a number of projects together, most notably New Canaan's (iconic) Glass House. Later, Johnson would remember Gores as "the most brilliant student in my class, a brilliant writer, and wonderful draftsman," so it makes sense that during their partnership Gores was responsible for most of the drafting. In 1951, Gores and Johnson parted ways.
Built in 1948 for his own family, the Gores House was one of New Canaan's earliest modern homes. Well-suited to its expansive site, the one-story, frame house sits on a long, rocky spine that overlooks a densely wooded valley. The design possesses the attributes of both European Modernism and American "organic" architecture, its glassy expanses and open, informal plan complementing the wide, horizontal planes and warm, natural materials. A fusion of Bauhaus detail and Wrightian connection to the landscape, the house effectively filters Modernism through the lens of America's domestic tradition.
In 1952, the Gores House was featured in House and Home, the low, nearly symmetrical form spreading across several pages of the publication. The magazine called the design "a traditional house executed in the modern manner" and offered a glowing review of Gores' ability to reconcile "such diverse influences." It was and still is an easy house to love- the projecting and receding roof planes, bay windows, and hovering cantilevers offering variety (and a sense of surprise) to the plan's almost monumental mass. And even though the house is large, it seems remarkably unified, its relationship with nature the thread that holds the entire composition together.
The Gores House never ceases to admire the landscape just outside its doors. Glass walls, clerestory windows, and skylights bring natural light into the interior and provide views of the picturesque terrain. Multiple access points from the living areas and bedrooms put nature at arm's reach. And in one of the home's most impressive features, a dramatic entrance foyer acts as a graceful transition between the interior and exterior. Here a skylighted ceiling continues the same views established at the entry, while flagstone floors recall the natural materials of the outside. Though for all of its Wrightian effects- an affinity for the landscape, changes in ceiling height and floor levels, a massive fireplace, those clerestory strips- the house also consists of transparent walls and restrained detailing reminiscent of Mies or Breuer.
Gores' approach to merging Wright and Mies (organic and Modern) was adopted by other architects and builders in the following decades. Modern in its open plan, clean and simple details, and bold transparency, the Gores House is also conscious of America's architectural lineage. Picking up on Frank Lloyd Wright's domestic designs of the 1930s and 40s, Gores' architecture embodies the importance and permanence of "home." Though some may look at the Gores House as a compromise (especially when juxtaposed against Johnson's Glass House), its synthesis of modern and traditional found widespread acceptance in postwar America. It is a house that seems recognizable today because of Gores' thoughtful and prescient combination of elements. And although the architect is probably the least known of the Harvard Five, Gores' ideas proved to be the most persuasive, impacting the residential landscape more than Johnson, Noyes, Breuer, or Johansen could ever really imagine.
You can read more about members of the Harvard Five here and here.
Image at top:
From House and Home (Jan. 1952), R. Damora.
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