The New Canaan Historical Society (NCHS) is proud to announce that its signature event Modern House Day Tour + Symposium, titled Modern: A Way of Thinking, which will take place on Saturday, May 14, 2016, following a tradition that began in 1949 with the first New Canaan, modern house tour which drew more than 3,000 people. This year’s tour will feature homes designed and renovated by Philip Johnson, John Black Lee, Elliot Noyes, Hariri & Hariri, Kengo Kuma, Joeb Moore, Toshiko Mori, Amanda Martocchio and others.
The program begins at 8:30 am with check in and a continental breakfast at Grace Farms, a new center for nature, arts, justice, community and faith. Owned and operated by Grace Farms Foundation, Grace Farms was established as an 80-acre gift of open space. The site incorporates an 83,000-square foot multi-use building called the River, that blends into the surrounding woodlands, wetlands and meadows. Tours of Grace Farms will be offered throughout the day.
“All of us at Grace Farms are excited to be a part of the Historical Society’s Modern House Day, honoring the important legacy of modern architecture in New Canaan,” said Sharon Prince, President of Grace Farms Foundation.
“By living in the midst of so many outstanding modern residences—the greatest concentration of early mid-century moderns in the U.S.—the people of our town have an opportunity to experience firsthand an architecture of minimalist simplicity, which calms the mind and reduces our separation from nature. Our intention with Grace Farms was to create this type of experience, and the architecture was the path to doing so,” adds Prince.
The program kicks off with a Symposium at 9:45 am that includes presentations by Hicks Stone, architect and author of Edward Durell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect; Bill Ryall, LEED, PHIUS and partner at Ryall, Porter, Sheridan. Bill was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects for his work integrating the highest world standards of energy-efficiency with high-quality architectural design; and Sharon Prince, who will discuss her work with Tokyo-based, Pritzker Prize-winning firm SANAA who designed Grace Farms. AIA credits will be offered.
Following the Symposium, guests will break into small groups to enjoy a box lunch, take a guided tour of Grace Farms and visit modern homes throughout New Canaan via private tour vans, escorted by an architect or historian of the Modern Movement. The day will conclude back at Grace Farms for a Cocktail Party from 5-7 pm.
Modern House Transformed
One of the remarkable homes featured on the tour is a mid-century modern home designed and built in 1956 by John Black Lee, affiliated with New Canaan’s Harvard Five architects. After purchasing the home from Lee in 1990, the owners commissioned NY-based architect Toshiko Mori to make some subtle but impactful changes to the symmetrical home including replacing deteriorating exterior wood posts with stainless steel columns and heightening the center core elevation by increasing the height of the clerestory window by about 18 inches adding additional light.
Later, other changes were made to the house to accommodate the owners’ growing family such as finishing a basement and adding a minimal glass balustrade to define the stairs to the lower level.
But in 2006, when a tree fell on the house causing considerable damage, the owners took the opportunity to envision a major transformation – a master bedroom suite bath, new kitchen and expansive dining room surrounded by walls of glass that cantilevers 17 feet above the ground below creating the sense of being fused with nature.
After a great deal of research, the owners chose Japanese architect Kengo Kuma based on his delicate work, minimalist aesthetic and sensitivity to nature.
“Kengo’s work is so respectful of the landscape… most contemporary architects are not,” says the owner. “He doesn’t want to call attention to the architecture, and that was important to us.”
It didn’t take long for the owner to convince Kuma to take on the massive project, his first in the United States. He was drawn to John Black Lee’s original four-square, symmetrical design, which was itself influenced by Japanese architecture and a sloping, wooded lot, the proposed site for the new pavilion.
One of the first challenges was to connect the original house to the new structure. Kuma conceived a stepped, glass passageway with a wood floor that appears to “float” in midair with a razor-thin roofline that slips unnoticeably under the eave line of each building.
The beautiful glass and wood pavilion features floor-to-ceiling glass panes with a slightly smoke tint that reflect and refract the natural light. Delicate stainless-steel chain panels serve as transparent divisions between rooms and the dark ipe Brazilian hardwood floors flow uninterrupted from inside to the expansive deck that surrounds the entire structure. From a distance, the architecture appears to dissolve into the landscape.
Throughout the project, Kuma continued to refer to the question he posed for himself, “How to make architecture disappear?” He noted that using a transparent material such as glass is not always enough to erase an object. “Many glass buildings are in fact conspicuous objects that thoroughly dominate their environments,” he says, adding, “There should be no separation between the roof and the heavens.”
The project took four years to complete and doubled the size of the original house to approximately 3,600 square feet of interior space and 3,600 of exterior deck space. By working closely with Kuma, and sharing a common vision, the owners were able to maintain the integrity and the spirit of the original house, while respecting the legacy of New Canaan’s mid-century modern movement. Not an easy task.
Tickets for the Modern House Day Tour + Symposium can be purchased online at NCHistory.org.
$500 – Full day program including Breakfast, Symposium, Lunch, Modern House Tour, Grace Farms Tour, Cocktail Party and Transportation
$275 – Breakfast + Symposium
The Modern House Day Tour + Symposium, sponsored by Grace Farms Foundation, William Pitt / Sotheby’s International Realty, Prutting & Company LLC, Rick Sillo Construction and Media Sponsor Moffly Media, will benefit the New Canaan Historical Society, founded in 1889 to promote historic preservation and build an appreciation of the town’s rich past. A portion of the ticket is tax deductible.
For more information or to receive a printed invitation, please contact The New Canaan Historical Society at 203.966.1776. Tickets can also be purchased at http://www.nchistory.org/modern-house-day-tour-symposium-modern-a-way-of-thinking/