Green Mountain Modern


Intro: Devin Colman / Article: Rebecca Lo Presti


Regional Spotlight, Vermont
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Think of Vermont, and what comes to mind? Most likely a decidedly nostalgic vision of quaint villages, white churches with tall steeples, picturesque farmsteads with red barns and cows grazing in green fields, and covered bridges crossing meandering rivers. This is all true, but it’s not the complete story. Believe it or not, the 20th century did happen in Vermont and left its own unique imprint on our built environment. For the past 15 years I have been researching and documenting Vermont’s modernist architectural heritage, a task that continues today and never ceases to reveal new discoveries. What draws me to this topic is that it’s a challenge; if you’re interested in seeing examples of Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne buildings, these can be found on Main Street in most Vermont towns. But if you’re looking for Usonian, International Style, Contemporary, Shed, A-Frame, and other modern-style buildings they’re here too, but they’re just not as obvious. They’re tucked away on mountainsides or in small clusters on the edges of older neighborhoods. You must look for these buildings, and once you start seeing them, it quickly becomes clear that Vermont has a lot to offer in terms of 20th-century architecture and design. The following articles are just scratching the surface of Vermont’s modernist heritage, and I’m grateful to the contributors for taking the time to share what they have discovered with you. Hopefully, after reading these articles, you’ll add a modernist building or two to your mental image of the Green Mountain State. 

-Devin Coleman, State Architectural Historian

Green Mountain Modern Part One: The Charterhouse of The Transfiguration; Vermont’s Granite Monastery

by Rebecca Lo Presti

In Vermont’s Mount Equinox resides a granite monastery, orchestrated by modern architect Victor Christ-Janer. The material, location, and design make the Charterhouse a uniquely intriguing example of modernism in Vermont, especially because little has been written about the monastery.

The Charterhouse of Transfiguration is a modern monolith of granite, hidden away in the valley of Mount Equinox in the southwestern corner of Vermont. The residents of the utilitarian Charterhouse are monks belonging to the Carthusian Order- a sect of Catholicism that thrives on seclusion. Despite its isolation, though, the Charterhouse of Transfiguration is a fascinating- and understudied- example of Vermont’s modern architecture, and serves as a stunning combination of modernism and theology through place-based, material design. 

Modern architect Victor Christ-Janer designed the Charterhouse in the mid-1960’s, adding to his already lengthy repertoire of commissioned religious buildings. (1) Christ-Janer’s churches, including the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Minnesota and the Cheshire United Methodist Church in Connecticut, exhibit a simplicity in utilitarianism, flat roofing, and sweeping interior communal spaces. Christ-Janer’s designs consistently showcased an impressive ability to translate religious ideals into modern aesthetics. 

Christ-Janer worked as an architect, professor, and lecturer. He was also a practicing Lutheran, and occupied a unique position among his Harvard Five counterparts due to the dedicated integration of his religious ideals into his work. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Christ-Janer embarked on a lecture tour entitled “Aesthetics, Space and Theology,” in which he argued that modern design demonstrated security in the future because of its rejection of nostalgia. (2) According to Christ-Janer, this made modern design ideal for new religious buildings as a way to counteract the insecurity among religious institutions caused by the “God is Dead” movement in the US. It is clear, then, why Christ-Janer’s biggest architectural successes came in the form of religious designs, and why he was chosen to design the Charterhouse.

To understand the intelligence of Christ-Janer’s proposal for the Charterhouse, its inhabitants must be contextualized first. The Charterhouse is the only Carthusian monastery in North America, and just one of eighteen, worldwide. (3) The scarcity of the Carthusians is due to several elements of the non-proselytizing order, which is infamous among other Catholic sects for its extreme ascetic lifestyle. Saint Bruno founded the Carthusian order in 1081 when he and six other monks left their Benedictine residence for the Chartreuse Mountains in France. The group sought to mimic the reclusive lifestyle of early Christians in protest of the conflict and corruption they saw in the Catholic church. In the mountains of southern France, Saint Bruno found that solitude brought about extreme religious clarity. For him and his growing number of followers, a complete rejection of society strengthened their piety.

Carthusians still operate today much like Saint Bruno did over 900 years ago. (4) Fathers spend almost all of their time in their cells, studying, translating, and reflecting. Brothers spend less time in personal study, and instead assume the maintenance, cooking, cleaning, and construction needed to maintain the monasteries, which are built to be self-sustaining. All monks pray in church three times a day at 12:15 am, 7:45 am, and 5:00 pm. Talking is limited among monks, with the exception of a shared weekend lunch and following walk in the surrounding woods. In 1950, the Carthusian Order sent Father Thomas Verner Moore, a respected Benedictine monk and psychologist, to establish a Carthusian presence in America. Father Moore quickly befriended Dr. Joseph George Davidson, who immediately took interest in the Order. Recognizing their need for a permanent establishment, Dr. Davidson bequeathed a parcel of land in Mount Equinox to the Carthusians. It was here that they built their permanent Charterhouse in the mid 1960’s.

The Charterhouse of Transfiguration is the only distinctly modern monastery in the Order. The head monastery, La Grande Chartreuse, is based out of a French chateau almost a 1000 years in age, and other newer monasteries harken back to this site in design. Christ-Janer’s architecture is the most utilitarian among the twenty-three extant monasteries, yet his design pays the most attention to the Carthusian lifestyle. Despite being 900 years apart in origin, modern architecture actually beautifully matches the ideals of the aged Catholic order.

From an aerial perspective- one of the few views accessible to the public through Google Maps the Charterhouse is a brusque, light gray enclosure that stands alone among the swath of green forests. The Charterhouse is a self-sustained granite campus, consisting of one and two story corridors that enclose five rectangular courtyards of various sizes. Three small courtyards are consecutively placed north to south in the center of the campus, with the smallest courtyard in the center. A larger courtyard is on either side of this central three-courtyard strip, spanning the length of the top of the northern central courtyard to the bottom of the middle courtyard. Small rectangular cells jutt out from the exterior of the far eastern wall. An additional three cells, larger in size, extend from the opposite western wall. Cells also build off of the three exposed walls that enclose the southernmost courtyard of the central column. With the exception of the three aforementioned large cells on the western side of the campus, all other cells have enclosed personal courtyards. The campus design of the Charterhouse fractals outwards, repeating the same rectangular cell and adjoining courtyard plan. This single unit of a cell and courtyard allows for each monk to have his own private space, and reiterates the emphasis of solitude for the Order.

The walls of the Charterhouse are made of large gray granite slabs, all measuring 3.5 feet by 9.5 feet by 18 inches. (5) Concrete fills in the spaces between the slabs to create both the interior and exterior of the monastery. Based on the few interior photographs of the monastery posted on its website, the granite blocks are intermittently spaced to allow for tall rectangular panels of light to cut into the hallways. Windows provide the majority of light for the interior spaces, both in the hallways and individual cells. The windows play an additional role in connecting the monks to their natural surroundings. Carthusians are deeply rooted in nature as part of their minimalist lifestyle, and Christ-Janer designed the Charterhouse so that the architecture did not distract from the outdoors. The modernist affinity for nature compliments the Carthusians’ appreciation for untouched wilderness.

Another modernist element beautifully exhibited in the monastery is the material’s role in the architectural story of the building. The granite is sourced from Rock of Ages, a company that both operates out of and quarries material from Barre, Vermont. Vermont is intrinsically tied to the presence of Carthusians in North America, as both their temporary Sky Farm and permanent Charterhouse took up residence in the rural state. Furthermore, Father Thomas Moore saw parallels between the solitude of rural Vermont hills and the mountains that Saint Bruno occupied during his first journey for piety. The current Charterhouse monks share this view; they refer to their home in the valley of Mount Equinox as the “Carthusian desert in Vermont.” (6) Christ-Janers’s use of Vermont granite therefore grounds the Charterhouse, both literally and figuratively, in its environment. The entirety of the monastery is a distinct example of Christ-Janer’s ability to practice place-based architecture.

The appearance of the granite also reflects the lifestyle of the monks. The granite blocks were not smoothed and polished after being quarried, nor were they cut to remove the marks made from the cleaving process. Archival images from the Vermont Granite Museum’s collections show the roughly-pitched granite surfaces, unprocessed and raw, being placed onsite for construction. The simplicity of the granite Charterhouse walls match the quiet and reserved demeanors of those who inhabit them. The Carthusian lifestyle is one of complete rejection of material objects, and the granite walls evoke untouched nature, not materialism.

In addition, the permanence of the granite again echoes the ideals of the Carthusians. As previously stated, the Carthusians remain relatively unchanged in practice since their foundation over 900 years ago. Therefore, their new 20th century residence had to convey their connection to the past without being too ornamental. Although Christ-Janer’s design is modern, the weight of the granite brings this security to the newness of the Charterhouse, just as Christ-Janer discussed in his lecture series. Were the monastery to be made of wood or glass, for instance, it would immediately disconnect from the historic relevance of its inhabitants. Instead, the granite makes the monastery appear to be as old as the forest that surrounds it and the valley where it rests. Christ-Janer designed a monastery representative of its new location and old beliefs.

The Charterhouse is a brilliant example of the versatility of utilitarian architecture and the craft of an understudied modernist. Christ-Janer’s unique material choice of granite further demonstrates how he incorporated the lifestyle and beliefs of his clients into his plan for their place of residence. The Charterhouse encapsulates almost 1000 years of religious history, and its design both grounds its residents in the past while projecting stability for the future. 

Of final note, the Charterhouse is unlike many other sites featured in Docomomo newsletters. As previously mentioned, the monastery is closed to the public, and communications with the outside world are limited to men interested in joining the Order. Furthermore, the Charterhouse is unlikely to require historic preservation intervention in the near future; granite is particularly durable, and its inhabitants are unlikely to vacate the premises any time soon. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating and intriguing case study of Vermont’s modern architecture that both reinforces the bucolic reputation of the state and serves as a gateway for further exploration of modern design.


  1. Pogrebin, R. (2008, May 8). Victor Christ-Janer, Modernist Architect, Dies at 92. The New York Times. 
  2. Harris, J.C. (1966, October 28). It’s Nostalgic Architecture: Insecurity About The Future. The Charlotte Observer
  3. Saint Bruno. (2007). Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  4. Fathers. (2007). Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  5. The Early Times. (2007). Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  6.  Photos: the environment outside of the monastery. (2007). Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Retrieved August 1, 2021.


Christ-Janer, V. (1980). Constituent Imagery. Prospectus, 17(n.d.), 8-17.

Charterhouse of the Transfiguration website. Retrieved August 1, 2021.

Harris, J.C. (1966, October 28). It’s Nostalgic Architecture: Insecurity About The Future. The Charlotte Observer. Accessed at the Vermont Historical Society.

Pogrebin, R. (2008, May 8). Victor Christ-Janer, Modernist Architect, Dies at 92. The New York Times.

The Carthusian Order. (n.d.). English Heritage. Accessed August 1, 2021.

About the Author

Rebecca Lo Presti is currently serving at the Vermont Granite Museum through AmeriCorps. She graduated from Hofstra University in December 2020 with a B.A. in History and minors in Art History and French. She was a recipient of the Docomomo US 2021 National Symposium Scholarship.

Green Mountain Modern is part of the Docomomo US Regional Spotlight on Modernism Series, which was launched to help you explore modern places throughout the country without leaving your home. Previous spotlights include Chicago, MississippiMidland, MIHoustonLas VegasColoradoKansasPittsburghMilwaukee, and South Dakota. Have a region you'd like to see highlighted? Submit an article.

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Green Mountain Modern Part Two:
Vermont's First Female Architect, Ruth Reynolds Freeman