The Landis Gores house, built in 1948 in New Canaan, Connecticut, is a large single-story, flat-roofed house that possesses stylistic attributes of both the International style and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The 4,000 square foot house is 130 feet in length, excluding the added garage, and is divided into three main sections. This tripartite sectioning of the house breaks up the flat roofline by creating varied horizontal levels and receding or advancing walls. The house is surrounded by low masonry walls that open up in the rear to a seating area and pool.
At the south end of the house is a bedroom wing with only a single row of clerestory openings on the west elevation, lighting a corridor inside. The bedrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows on the rear (east) elevation facing a cascade of stone terraces and pool. In the bedrooms the ceiling height is nine feet. As with the windows, the doors on the corridor side of the room also rise to the full ceiling height. In the bedrooms and the dining area, deep projections in the glass wall accommodate narrow doors at their corners.
The center of the house contains the living/dining and foyer areas. The foyer, linking the bedrooms and the main living area, is composed of a cantilevered roof with large skylights and an entry of three wide glass doors, resulting in a pergola effect. The floor of the foyer continues the bluestone pavement that surrounds the house, and a small fieldstone goldfish pool sits—a low extension of the massive central fireplace structure—in the middle. The living/dining area forms one large room, 32' x 37', and is divided into distinct activity areas through the use of furniture, cabinets, and shelving, much of it built in. The living area has 11-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass on both elevations. This room opens to the dining room and then kitchen on the north, and a small library alcove on the south. A massive 13' wide fieldstone fireplace also occupies the southern portion of the room. Off of the kitchen, a playroom extends out toward the terraces and pool and another room and garage (later additions) comprise the northern third of the structure.
The Gores house is a single-story frame house with a concrete foundation and a flat asphalt roof. Where the house’s walls are not made of glass or stone, they are covered in a grey-stained vertical siding of narrow tongue-in groove cypress boards or are of plaster finishing. Cypress paneling is also used on the main interiors spaces, along with plaster painted white. A very significant Gores detail are the ¾” recessed margins created with Cypress strips that are used to separate plaster wall sections and at the wall to ceiling junture. The floors are constructed of oak and contain a radiant heating system. The central part of the house, in the kitchen/living/foyer area, is surrounded by bluestone flagging pavement (see floor plan, Figure 0.01).
In its immediate surrounding, the house sits on a platform defined by mortared fieldstone walls that are low in the front but higher in the rear where the site slopes downward toward a wooded ravine. The house has its long axis oriented north-south and is parallel to the ridge along which Cross Ridge Road runs. It occupies a large wooded lot in a residential neighborhood of similar lots with widely spaced homes. In a broader context, the Gores House is an exemplary example of the array of Modern architecture exhibited throughout the town of New Canaan.
The house was constructed by expertly trained master craftsmen who were adept at adapting their skills to the specific finish details of the Modern design. The integration of plate glass in panes very large for the time period was probably the most challenging technical aspect of the construction.
Although Gores’ architectural education was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where many the faculty were Bauhaus émigrés and most of his close colleagues were steeped in a more orthodox Modern movement ideology, the legacy of the Gores house on Cross Ridge Road is most notably determined by its general popularity and the ideas it infused into home design in the US. The house is an example of principles European Modernism transplanted to the American suburbs, but it tempers more orthodox principles with traditional American materials and organic forms like those favored by Frank Lloyd Wright. Like Wright’s work, the house emphasizes the permanence of a home rather than the industrial, “machine for living” philosophy advocated by the European Modernists. Although considered avant-garde when it was built, the house was more palatable to the general public than the text book “glass boxes” and was highly influential in the development of suburban ranch-style and contemporary homes both in the custom-built and prefabricated markets.
The house is an essay on both the principles of Modernism and ‘Wrightian’ architecture, and as such also represents a philosophical divide between Gores and his “Harvard Five” colleagues. The choice of materials reflects a blending of aesthetics, incorporating both the liberal use of large plate glass, a result of Modernist influences, and the use of Wrightian natural materials, particularly fieldstone and wood. The house maintains a Modern open plan, but forms a Wrightian connection to its site, running parallel to a dramatic ridge overlooking a ravine and blurring the boundary between indoors and out. Nowhere is the mix of aesthetics more evident than in the entrance foyer where a cantilevered roof, skylights, stone, and glass take their stylistic cues from two separate aesthetics and establish a sense of the outdoors inside.
During the mid-20th century, New Canaan was a laboratory for Modern movement architecture and design. The arrival of the “Harvard Five” (Landis Gores, Phillip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes, and John Johansen) to the then-rural area and subsequent design of their own homes in the town was the beginning of New Canaan’s role as a showcase of Modern Movement architecture. The Gores House, as one of the first Modern houses in the area, was a central work in this showcase, and was one of the original six houses on the first Modern house tour, organized by the “Harvard Five” in May 1949. This tour and the tours that followed brought the idea of a Modern house to the general public and along with coverage in the US shelter magazines helped trigger the mid-century trend that deviated from the traditional styles of home design across the country.
The Gores House is one of only a few Modern Movement houses on the National Register of Historic Places. It epitomizes the transfer of architectural ideas from the more narrowly defined, European-derived Modern movement to the practical needs and ideals of the American family home at one of the most optimistic moments in US history. This was the intent of Landis Gores in his own words, saw an opportunity, “An opportunity for harmonious combination of traditional life pattern with a fresh and novel enclosing mechanism; a house, a happy house…full of light and flexibility as well as grace and even dignity.”