Modern architecture can often compliment and blend into the context of historic neighborhoods, and this example in Boston’s South End neighborhood is one of the best examples locally. In 2002, developers eyed a long-vacant lot on the busy Mass. Ave corridor through the South End and began designs of a contextual addition to the streetscape. Dolezal Architecture was tasked with designing a modern residential building that would comply with local historic district regulations, a balance that can be difficult to accomplish. Employing traditional masonry, solid-to-void ratios, massing, and bays, but in a modern context, the building blends in with its surroundings yet is architecturally interesting. The building contains ten condos in a single building which reads more like two distinct structures.
Socony-Mobil Building // 1956
One of the unsung heroes of Modernist architecture in New York City is one of my personal favorites, the Socony-Mobil Building at 150 E 42nd Street in Manhattan. Completed in 1956 from plans by Wallace Harrison of the iconic firm of Harrison & Abramowitz, the development stands out amongst the competing masonry buildings and glass skyscrapers in the area. At the time of its completion, the Socony–Mobil Building was the first skyscraper to have its exterior wall entirely clad with stainless steel, as well as being the largest air-conditioned building in the world! The base is clad with opaque blue glass panels framed with stainless steel moldings; above, the tower and wings are clad in over 7,000 embossed stainless steel panels. The firm reviewed over 100 different designs until they settled upon the four raised relief panels: a rosette-like motif for above and below the windows; a large and small rosette to flank the windows, and two variants displaying a design of interlocking pyramids. The panels were likely designed by or inspired by Oskar Nitzchke (1900-91), a German-born designer who worked at the firm and worked on the similar style Alcoa Building (1953) in Pittsburgh. The building was developed as a speculative project, but the largest tenant, the Socony-Mobil Oil Company, later renamed Mobil, helped to give way to the naming rights. The building was landmarked by the City of New York in 2003.
Woodshed // 2017
In researching historic buildings in the tiny Vermont town of Pomfret, I was stunned to find images of this stunning Modern design in the town. Designed by the Birdseye Design Firm based out of Richmond, VT, “Woodshed” was completed by 2017 and serves as both a guest house and entertainment space for the main residence down the road. From the firm’s website, “The project is conceptually inspired by the vernacular woodshed, a familiar and iconic element in the Vermont landscape. The residence is composed of two asymmetric gable roof forms, akin to the traditional woodshed, connected by a central entryway”. The common thought on new construction is typically bland and “cookie-cutter” McMansions or boxy apartments, but this project is a testament to thoughtful Modern design found in even the smallest towns in the region!
New Kent Memorial Library // 1972
Between 1900 and 1970, the town of Suffield doubled its population, and the 1899 public library was outgrown. The city gathered funds to construct a new library, knowing that the endowment for the day-to-day operations of the library by Sidney Kent, in memory of his parents, would transfer to a new building as long as the name carried with it. The town hired Warren Platner, an architect, interior designer and furniture designer, based out of New Haven. Platner designed the Modern library with a concrete frame, faced with pink stone and white painted brick above, surrounds a central garden court. The flat coffered concrete roof and overhanging concrete project outwards over the terraced exterior courtyards. The interior is on five floor levels connected by gradual ramps with no stairs inside (at least at the time of construction). The town proposed a plan to demolish the library in 2008, replacing it with a larger library, but it was voted down by residents, saving (what is believed to be) the only free-standing Platner building remaining in the country.
Sewall Avenue Apartments // 1938
These apartments in Brookline were built in 1938 and designed by Saul Moffie. The Art Deco design is refined yet elegant with just the use of brick coursing. The amazing brickwork includes header courses, soldier courses and chevrons. This example shows that good design does not require the most expensive or foreign materials to stand out! Oh and there are steel casement windows!
Max Katz House // 1947
One of my favorite homes in Brookline has to be the Katz House, located on Kent Street, opposite the Longwood Mall. The home was designed and built in 1947 by Samuel Glaser (1902-1983) was born in Latvia and at the age of four came to the United States with his family, settling in Brookline. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating with an architecture degree in 1925. Glaser worked in the New York architecture firm of Clarence Stein before returning to Brookline by 1933. He established his own firm in Boston, seeking a niche as a designer of moderately priced homes, particularly in the expanding suburbs where young Jewish
families had begun living. Glaser is a relatively unknown architect who could design iconic Tudor homes as well as Contemporary Modern homes. His most notable building (that gets the most traffic) is the Star Market built over the Mass Pike, just west of Boston, that building was possibly the first to build using air rights over a street.
The Modern home was built for Max Katz, a Lithuanian-born businessman who founded the Merchant Tire Company in Boston in 1922. He likely met Glaser at the nearby Jewish Temple on Beacon Street.
The Dunes Club // 1939
This elite, members-only beach club in Narragansett, Rhode Island was originally founded in 1928. The property featured a gate house, club house, bars and cabanas for members who did not want to mingle with the typical tourists or residents. The New England Hurricane of 1938, which destroyed many buildings in Narragansett and the greater region, flooded and battered the first Dunes Club and required it to be demolished. The next year, the members pooled together resources (along with help from insurance) to hired the firm of Purves, Cope & Stewart Architects from Philadelphia, to design the Colonial Revival-Art Deco style clubhouse.
Constructed almost entirely of wood, the elongated building had two main entrances, one facing the drive approach, and one facing the beach. The street-facing entrance has a more residential quality with modestly sized windows and an entrance portico, while the beachfront facade showcases the views with large multi-pane casement windows and decks running the length of the building. To one side, cabanas were built surrounding central sandy courtyards, all with views to the beach.