Early Modern Architecture in Lincoln, Massachusetts

Today, Friends of Modern Architecture/Lincoln works to spread awareness and appreciation for Lincoln’s treasure trove of early Modern homes—here are a few of their favorites

After the rise of the Nazi Party, Walter Gropius left his native Germany, where he had founded the Bauhaus movement, an architecture style emphasizing new technology, expressive materials, and environmental context. Gropius eventually settled in the United States to head Harvard University’s architecture department. Upon his arrival in 1938, philanthropist Helen Osborne Storrow bequeathed Gropius a plot of land in the small town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, on which he built his pioneering Modern home. Fellow Bauhaus member Marcel Breuer followed Gropius to America and also built his home in Lincoln, transforming the town into a magnet for architects who embraced Modernism. Today, Friends of Modern Architecture/Lincoln works to spread awareness and appreciation for Lincoln’s treasure trove of early Modern homes—here are a few of their favorites:

Henry B. Hoover House (1937)
Designed by Henry B. Hoover

Although it put Lincoln on the Modernist map, Gropius’1938 family home was not the first modern house in Lincoln. A year earlier, Harvard-educated architect Henry B. Hoover built a home for his family that embodied American Modernism with its use of natural materials, open floor plan, and integral connection with nature. Primarily a residential architect, Hoover designed more than 100 houses across the country, 50 of which were located in Lincoln. The Hoover House is sited on rocky terrain with views overlooking the Cambridge reservoir. The house’s connectedness with its site reflects Hoover’s early affiliation with noted landscape architect Fletcher Steele.

Photo courtesy of Historic New England

Walter Gropius House (1938)
Designed by Walter Gropius

Wanting his home to reflect New England building traditions while adhering to Bauhaus principles, Gropius combined locally popular materials like clapboard, brick, and fieldstone (often employed in innovative ways) with new concepts like glass block, chromed banisters, and acoustical plaster. The result was a revolutionary house that incorporates such cutting-edge concepts as passive solar heating, natural ventilation, and a kitchen with a garbage disposal and automatic dishwasher. Other Bauhaus contemporaries, including Josef Albers and Marcel Breuer, contributed furniture and artwork to the home’s interior. Today, the fully intact house is operated as a museum by Historic New England, and is considered one of the foremost showcases of Bauhaus architecture in the U.S.

Francis C. Gaskill House (1940)
Designed by Quincy Adams

A descendent of former presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Lincoln-based, Columbia-educated architect Quincy Adams met Walter Gropius shortly after his arrival in Lincoln and became enamored with the Bauhaus style. In addition to the fire-damaged home featured in OHJ’s November/December issue (which was built for Adams’ sister, Abigail), he also designed the 1940 Gaskill House, which demonstrates Modernism’s embrace of new building materials (concrete-block construction), flat roofs, and simplified ornamentation and moldings. Although Adams promoted Modern design, he cherished the New England landscape, and was alarmed by the pace of 20th-century property subdivision and development. He donated hundreds of acres of his family’s land to be preserved as green space, and served on the Lincoln Conservation Commission for 29 years.

John P. Monks House (1941)
Designed by G. Holmes Perkins

A Harvard University faculty member who helped bring Walter Gropius to Harvard in 1937, Perkins went on to hold the deanship of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950. He designed five residential houses in the Boston area, including an International Style house for Dr. John P. Monks in Lincoln in 1941. The home, said to be Perkins’ favorite among his designs, features a graceful plaster spiral staircase in the entryway, a spacious living room designed to hold classical music concerts, a pinwheel-shaped floor plan, and south-facing bedrooms that overlook the expanse of lawn and trees with a continuous balcony that runs the entire width of the house. The house received national recognition when it was featured in The Architectural Forum in June of 1945 and numerous books on modern residential design. The surrounding New England landscape and terraces were designed by Perkins and Christopher Tunnard, who published the classic manifesto Gardens in the Modern Landscape in 1938 and went on to influence a whole generation of landscape architects and planners.

Tags: | Online Exclusive architecture bauhaus Clare M. Alexander mid-century modern OHJ November/December 2009 Old-House Journal

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