Thursday, September 16, 2010

Snake Hill + "Hipsters in the Woods" -- A great piece by David Fixler

I just stumbled across this piece by David Fixler, President of the New Englad chapter of DOCOMOMO. Years ago, I read a similar piece by Mr. Fixler in Architecture Boston.

Massachusetts is home to the first (and only prewar) Modern house neighborhoods in this country, of which the earliest and one of the most significant is Snake Hill in Belmont, developed by architect Carl Koch. Progressive Architecture noted in a 1945 article on the expansion of Snake Hill that the five original 1940 Snake Hill houses were “one of the best known and most significant groups of contemporary houses in the world,” by virtue of their planning and architecture, and their success in creating a strong sense of community on what had previously been considered an unbuildable rocky hillside. Snake Hill was as innovative technically as it was in social terms; Koch experimented with new materials and construction techniques that enabled the houses to be built cheaply and quickly, without sacrificing aesthetics or the quality of the interior space. The steep road accessing Snake Hill was even fitted with radiant hot-water pipes to melt snow and ice. The enduring coherence of Snake Hill’s identity is underscored by the relative obscurity of a contemporary development, under-taken by architect Gunnar Peterson in 1941 in Falmouth. This was unfortunately not conceived as a protected community, and has therefore had a considerable number of its houses replaced with mammoth contemporary structures that have severely compromised the character of the neighborhood.

The western suburbs — arcing out from an intellectual heart in Cambridge through Belmont, Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, and Weston — formed the locus of the Modern neighborhood. Each was a place that attracted progressive intellectuals, most of limited means, in search of space and good schools for growing families. A culture receptive to Modernism had already established itself in this area before the war: the first Modern houses in New England were the 1932 Eleanor Raymond House in Belmont, the 1933 Field House in Weston, and several houses including architect Henry Hoover’s own house, in Lincoln — all prior to the arrival of Walter Gropius in 1938.

Read more of the article here (PDF).

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