02 May 2008

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust

The town of Wellfleet, MA, voted to give $100,000 toward restoration of a Modern house, one of 17 that The National Park Service owns there but doesn't have the money for their upkeep.

The Cape Cod Modern House Trust, which promotes the documentation and preservation of significant examples of Modernist architecture on the Outer Cape, wants to use the money to restore what is known as the Kuegel/Gips house with the hope of eventually preserving more.

The Kugel/Gipps house was designed by Charlie Zehnder who built over forty highly original houses, all on the Outer Cape. He also was one of the prime movers behind building the local drive-in movie theater on what was once an asparagus field . . .

The web site’s overview explains how this concentration of little Moderns came to be: In the late 1930s, on the isolated ‘back shore’ of Wellfleet, a group of self-taught architecture enthusiasts began building experimental structures based on the early Modern buildings they had seen in Europe. Through mutual friends they invited some of the founders of European Modernism to buy land, build summer homes and settle . . . In the three decades that followed, these architects built homes for themselves, their friends and the community of internationally influential artists, writers, and thinkers that took root nearby. Though humble in budget, materials and environmental impact, the Outer Cape’s Modern houses manage to be manifestos of their designers' philosophy and way of living, close to nature, immersed in art and seeking community.

I liked reading the bios of the architects who built on the Cape, and the section called “others” which has stuff like, “Serge Chermayeff and Aero [Saarinen . . . you knew that] were sometimes seen rowing a small boat around Slough Pond with a rock and string, making a chart of the bottom and arguing about architecture.”

In addition to the predictable but necessary plea for monetary donations, the CCMHT is also seeking drawings, photographs and narratives – even in the form of loans – pertaining to these buildings to digitize and archive for future scholarship and publication. Donations of art and furnishings connected to mid 20th century modernism on the Outer Cape, however modest, are also being sought to recreate environments in the renovated houses.

We'll try to keep up on this as it would be a nice summer excursion:
the CCMHT, in collaboration with Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, will be hosting a Modern House Tour in August 2008. – GF

photos from the top: Jack Phillip's Bug House -
Photo courtesy of Florence Phillips; Charles Zehnder's Kugel/Gipps House, photo by Mark Walker; Breuer's Wise House - Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, NY, NY, photo by Joseph W. Molitor

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