January 30, 2007

Midcentury Family Modernism By Eliot Noyes


The Philip Johnson Glass House mention reminded me of this August 2006 article from Metropolis about Eliot Noyes, who, in his work at MoMA and later at IBM, helped launch the careers of the Eameses and Eero Saarinen. [And in addition to his massively influential work with IBM on architecture, graphics, and design fronts, he created the Official Daddy Types Holy Relic, the IBM Selectric.]

Noyes' family's own house in New Canaan is part of the town's Harvard Five modernist legacy. Calder jungle gym, Eames movies after dinner--with Eames, modernist family life never sounded so awesome. If only it weren't in the suburbs. And you didn't have to run outside to go to the bathroom:

The most famous in New Canaan is Johnson’s Glass House (1949). Now a National Trust historic site, it should open to the public next spring. But it’s a glass box for a gay man whose bedroom was in a windowless building across the lawn. As a model for modern domesticity, it lacked a certain relatable quality. Not so the Noyes house, which can be seen as the practical American family version of the midcentury Modern home. It could be in the pantheon with Farnsworth, Gropius, and Lovell—none of which was built for the richness of activity that comes with a family of six.

At the Noyes house there are five bedrooms for the four children and their parents. The oiled stone floors are indestructible, if unforgiving. The kitchen communicates with the big open living-dining space through a then-revolutionary pass-through, so Molly was not cut off from the action. Eliot’s study was tucked behind the hearth—within shouting distance—and the bookshelf was embedded in the chimney, stacked with both board games and Loeb Library classics. The Alexander Calder sculpture in the courtyard—Black Beast, 1957—seems less like art and more like a pet, another one of the family’s black standard poodles. “We got so familiar with all these things,” daughter Derry Noyes says. “I put my pets on the Calder, and actually killed a few turtles baking them in the sun. It was a jungle gym.” Out back was another pedigreed play structure—a geodesic dome popularized by Buckminster Fuller.

Family Comes First [metropolismag]
Check out the first Eliot Noyes monograph, by Gordon Bruce, designed to look like it was typed with a Selectric, btw [amazon]


I second that. Thanks, Greg.

I caught up with this today while riffing on an article I wrote in my blog about Japanese Condos (Mental Stimulation and Edgy Architecture). The Noyes house is breathtaking. Thanks so much for the post.

When I was a kid, we lived in an Eichler house, which seems like a pale, populist imitation of Noyes' themes. Living areas of the house were set around an open atrium faced with glass walls; a hallway was paved with stone. It was fairly organic in much the same way the Noyes house is truly organic.

The Eichlers were built by the hundreds (thousands?) in California -- whole tracts of them are falling into decay now, but they were an amazing, if impractical, experiment at the time.

Radiant heat under slab flooring was a killer for the Eichlers, as it probably is for the Noyes house. But it's as kind to the feet as those glass walls are to the eyes.

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