Tomorrow’s Houses: New England Modernism
by Alexander Gorlin
Rizzoli New York ($65)
The finest collection of midcentury modern houses outside of southern California is located at the opposite corner of the U.S. “Why did modern architecture take root in this region of colonial homes and entrenched tradition?” asks Gorlin. He traces its roots to the Puritan cult of honesty and simplicity that was echoed in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau. Harvard was the crucible of revolution. Walter Gropius radicalized the GSD; Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson moved to New Canaan and built model houses there. Sadly, Gorlin falls into the same trap as Elizabeth Gordon and Tom Wolfe in explaining the decline of modernism. He trots out the familiar cliches about dictatorial architects trying to brainwash the public, with no mention of the vulgarity and crass materialism of the new rich. It’s the striving for status and the retreat into the cozy womb of the past that blocks rational construction and it has been that way for a century or more. Twenty-five houses, ranging in date from 1930-1967 (plus a Prairie Style forerunner of 1912) are illustrated, and they include the usual suspects along with many unfamiliar examples.