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Another Glass House

Kengo Kuma and Associates

Kengo Kuma has made his American debut with a residential addition: a fully glazed wood pavilion that seems to hover above a gentle slope, and is linked to a classic modern house by a glass-sided bridge. It is a modest venture for one of Asia’s most admired and prolific architects, but - like Philip Johnson’s celebrated Glass House, two kilometers away - it’s poetic and precise, muscular yet refined. As with many important works of art, it is the product of a dialogue-between the creator and his client, architecture and nature, as well as the sensibilities of East and West. And it adds another chapter to the story of this house and the surrounding community. In the 1950s, the quiet, Colonial-era town of New Canaan, Connecticut, became a hub of modernism. Walter Gropius had transformed the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the 1940s, and several of his protégés settled here, an hour by train from New York. Philip Johnson, who was independently wealthy, bought 16 hectares of farmland and built his Glass House, the first of a dozen innovative structures he would add over the next half-century. The presence of Marcel Breuer, John Johansen and Eliot Noyes drew other talents, including John Black Lee, who arrived in 1950 and still lives there, in the third of the houses he built for himself. His second, completed in 1956, was an elegant, but frugal homage to Mies: a square pavilion, comprising a central open space flanked on two sides by pairs of small bedrooms separated by bathrooms. Plywood cabinets enclosed the skylit kitchen, which divided the foyer from the living-dining area. A projecting roof plane extended over a veranda on all four sides. “Modern was more spirit than style in the ‘fifties,” Lee recalls. “We all shared the same philosophy and felt it was a great thing to build for the common man. But adventurous clients were always uncommon and soon had to be rich to build here.” Simplicity was the drawing card for Susan Leaming,...

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