The Harvard Five was a group of architects that settled in New Canaan, Connecticut during the 1940s. Influenced by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement and head of the architecture program at Harvard, the Five – John Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes– made excellent contributions to modern architecture in New Canaan.
The homes that these architects created captured the zeitgeist of an era – the optimism, the innovation. Exposed steel beams, dramatic lines, and minimalistic details caused many of these homes to appear in stark contrast to the more bucolic, clapboard colonials that were commonplace in New Canaan. The use of transparent materials like plastic, or glass (most famously in the case of Philip Johnson’s home), served to take these stark forms and integrate them with the surrounding landscape, blurring the line between indoors and out.
They transcended the Traditional, using materials and forms that were unprecedented in architecture at the time. Yet they did not completely forget the precepts of Classical architecture, drawing from greats like Palladio, as evidenced by the beautiful symmetry found in Johansen’s 1957 Warner House, as well as its scaled-back decadence captured in its vaulted gold-leaf ceilings, terrazzo floors, and ebonized-wood cabinets.
New Canaan is recognized across the country for its many midcentury modern homes including the famous Johnson’s Glass House and the Landis Gores House. Four are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places: the Landis Gores House, the Richard and Geraldine Hodgson House, the Philip Johnson Glass House, and the Noyes House. With many of the midcentury modern creations being threatened with demolition, or renovation without respect for a homes’ architectural roots, it is important to remember the artistry and contributions of the Harvard Five, as well as push for the preservation of these important pieces of architectural history.
PS – Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on Johansen’s Bridge House.