New Canaan in Connecticut, just an hour's train ride from New York, was where Philip Johnson built his Glass House in 1949 (see picture). But that wasn't just a one-off. In the postwar years, this small New England town became a Modernist Mecca for architects, as Johnson, Breuer, John Johansen, Eliot Noyes and others built more than 60 houses in its vicinity.
This place of creativity and intelligent patronage certainly deserves a book. Unfortunately, William Earls' The Harvard Five in New Canaan (Norton, £15.99) isn't quite it - but it's better than nothing. Earls himself acknowledges in the introduction that it's only 'preliminary': a selection of 36 of the houses, presented with little analysis (just a few contemporary comments from either magazines or the architects), and with redrawn plans which 'are not shown in any particular scale and should be considered as artistic interpretations of the original architects' intent'. Some of those plans are surprisingly conventional.
The real problem, perhaps, is the grey, lustreless look of the book and its uninspired design. Many of these houses are altered now and some demolished, usually in favour of overscale mock-Colonial or otherwise retro mansions, so of course there will be a reliance on archive photos. But how this book would benefit from well-reproduced images of survivals as they are today.
Almost all of these New Canaan houses are off-limits to the public. A few you can see quite well from the road, most are just glimpses through the trees. The one exception is Johnson's Glass House, which he willed to the National Trust (NT), and which should open to visitors in April 2007, along with other Johnson buildings on the 18ha site ( www. philipjohnsonglasshouse. org). In the New York Times on 13 August there was an interview with the house's director of preservation, Marty Skrelunas, who says that he is planning 'a long list of improvements', including replacing the roof, which 'is nearing the end of its life cycle' ( www. nytimes. com).
The Glass House is the NT's second Modern property, the other being Mies' Farnsworth House in Illinois, also open to the public ( www. nationaltrust. org).
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