Who Were the Harvard Five—And What Do They Have to do with Connecticut?

2012_437_0

The Glass House, New Canaan, 1979. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.437.0

When most people think of Connecticut architecture, they most often think of Colonial saltbox houses or white steepled churches nestled in green hills. They usually don’t think of the International Style of modern architecture, and they certainly don’t think of Harvard University. But in the 1940s, five architects from Harvard settled in the green hills of New Canaan, Connecticut, attracted by its rural charm and the convenient train transportation to New York. Marcel Breuer, the oldest of the five, was an instructor at Harvard; John M. Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes were his students. All five built houses in New Canaan, not only for themselves, but for their neighbors. Philip Johnson’s house, known simply as “The Glass House,” has been called the “most famous house in the world.” A simple glass box set on a grassy promontory, it’s a far cry from today’s McMansions. Johnson lived in it from 1949 until his death in 2005. Now administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it’s well worth a visit, even if you don’t like modern architecture. Think of it rather as a pavilion for viewing the landscape, a work of art, an expression of a personality. Other modernist houses still dot New Canaan’s hills, and may be glimpsed through the trees as you drive the narrow back roads.

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