On Thursday night, a party was held at the 57th Street branch of Design Within Reach in Manhattan to celebrate the publication of a new book from Monacelli Press, “Midcentury Houses Today,” featuring a panel discussion by the four collaborators on the book, architects Jeffrey Matz and Cristina A. Ross, graphic designer Lorenzo Ottaviani and photographer Michael Biondo. The discussion was moderated by architectural journalist John Morris Dixon, who wrote the introduction to the tome.
In the years after World War II, a gifted, iconoclastic group of architects created remarkable groups of modern houses in several towns on the Eastern seaboard. The most notable trove of them is that of New Canaan, Conn., which at one time had 118 and still has 91. Matz, Ross, Ottaviani and Biondo, who all live in the area, set out to do a book documenting these residences, not as they appeared when first built, but as they currently look. Eighteen, built between the Fifties and 1978, were chosen, and each house has a chapter of its own. One member of the group, Ross, owns a midcentury modern house herself, the Ball House by Philip Johnson.
The quartet began approaching owners and, as Biondo, who had previously been known for his fashion, celebrity and advertising photography, put it, regarding publicity, “People are either desperate for it or desperate not to have it.” The owners of the houses were all “very private,” which made enlisting them in the project difficult. In the end it took five years to complete. But since Biondo lived in the area he had “a home-field advantage,” and could just bicycle over with his camera in his basket and his tripod strapped to his back whenever he saw great light or a sudden snowfall. “The weather became a character in the book,” he said.
Ross recalled the owners of the Boissonnas House worrying that the flat roofs of their house might collapse when there was a heavy snowfall due to arrive. But they ran into its architect, Philip Johnson, who said, “Don’t worry, my dears. I built them with steel.”