History

Modern Homes Survey

The New Canaan Mid-Century Modern Houses survey is a comprehensive study of mid-twentieth-century, architect-designed, Modern domestic properties located in New Canaan, Connecticut. The study was completed in 2008 with financial support from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism with funds from the State of Connecticut.

In the post-World War II period, an informal network of Modern architects later known as the “Harvard Five”— Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen, Eliot Noyes, and Philip Johnson—moved to the bucolic town of New Canaan and established what would become a center of experimental Modern residential design.

Suburban expansion in the United States exploded in the post-World War II period as housing shortages pushed families out of cities and into the countryside, which was touted as more healthful for growing children. New Canaan, a town known briefly as a shoe-making center in the mid-nineteenth century and later as a desirable spot for summer homes for the wealthy, was ideally located for development. Only an hour from New York City but set apart from industrial development, major rail lines, and highways, New Canaan offered acres of former farmland ripe for house sites. In this context, the Harvard Five, along with other Modern architects like Willis N. Mills and Victor Christ-Janer, began advertising their architectural services through the construction of their own Modern homes.

The completion of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in 1949 caused an immediate nationwide sensation and the architects capitalized on the attention by participating in a series of Modern House tours that showcased their work.

By the end of 1952, over thirty Modern houses had been constructed throughout New Canaan. The tours attracted a second wave of architects and by the end of the 1970s, over one hundred Modern houses had been constructed in New Canaan.

The goals of this project were to systematically document the Modern houses, place them in a historic context, and assess their architectural and historical significance. To meet these goals, the study included a field survey of properties using a specifically tailored survey form; historic research; the creation of a glossary of Modern architectural terms; and an assessment of the resources using the National Register of Historic Places Criteria for Evaluation.

Click to view the full survey.

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