First and Foremost - Page 6

How light, lines, planes and sightlines provide aesthetic and sensual pleasure
First and Foremost

Alexandria, Virginia
Architect: Charles Goodman
1949: first homes sold

Like other early modern tracts, Hollin Hills, near Washington, D.C., was a bit of a social experiment. But it was more an experiment in land planning.

On 225 acres of rolling terrain purchased in 1946, developer Robert Davenport worked with architect Charles Goodman (pictured above) and landscape architect Lou Bernard Voigt to seamlessly blend homes with wooded land and waterways.

Davenport lived on the site and became part of the growing community, which was finally completed in 1971. By that time it had expanded to 325 acres, and today has more than 450 homes.

The sales plan was unusual for tracts. Rather than building houses and waiting for buyers, lots and house plans would be sold separately to buyers, and then construction would commence.

While Hollin Hills was not designed as a cooperative venture, Davenport's thinking was rooted in that tradition. A few years earlier he'd helped found and joined a housing cooperative, Tauxemont, on 12 acres south of what would later be Hollin Hills, building 20 small concrete houses (including the one pictured above) in traditional style.

In Goodman, Davenport found a committed modernist who designed homes with open plans, and window walls, which were not common in sweltering, snowy Virginia. Some of his window walls were structural, their frames helping hold up the house.

Roofs were low gabled, flat, or butterfly, their shallow pitches "allowing the buildings to lie within rather than on top of the landscape," according to the tract's National Register nomination.

"Each house was sited individually to minimize its impact on the landscape and provide for maximum privacy from adjacent houses," the document states.

Voigt won international attention for the site plan for "creating unity between the built environment and the natural landscape on property that had been rejected by other merchant builders as too risky," the nomination said.

It continued: "The subdivision plan has irregularly shaped lots that embrace the natural topography, winding streets and cul-de-sacs, and communal parks and woodlands that provide shade, privacy, and outdoor space."

Davenport created an association for Hollin Hills to look over the commonly owned landscaping and to foster community. It seems to have worked. On the Hollin Hills' website, the association brags that their neighborhood is "one of the most beautifully designed and well-preserved modernist communities in the United States."


First and Foremost

Englewood, Colorado
Architect: Eugene Sternberg (initially)
1949-'50: first homes built

Arapahoe Acres was a commercial venture, not a communal one. But its story suggests the struggles that can ensue when idealism confronts mammon.

The development's 1949 brochure promised 125 homes "zoned in price classes, blending from the $10,000-$12,000 range up to houses which will be priced at $20,000 or even more." The first nine to hit the market were in the lower range.

"The primary purpose in the first unit was to design a low-cost, two-bedroom home of contemporary character with many of the features usually found in more expensive homes," the brochure went on.

The architect and planner, Eugene Sternberg (pictured above), an Eastern European Holocaust émigré who had worked in new town planning in Britain, sought with the builder, Edward Hawkins, to minimize road surface, maximize mountain views, and provide curving streets and adept placement of homes on lots.

The original homes (which includes the one pictured above) used one basic plan, varied by arrangement, detailing, and rooflines, with open interiors and sliding, shoji-like interior screens. Rear terraces provided private outdoor living.

Sternberg believed in affordable housing for the masses, and when Hawkins charged more for the houses than originally planned (Hawkins could do that, since all nine sold quickly), Sternberg squawked, and their partnership ended. About 20 homes were built to Sternberg's designs.

Hawkins, an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright, proved a talented designer himself. He went on to design most of the houses at Arapahoe Acres, which range from single story to two stories. Many designs show Wright's Usonian influence. Architect Joseph Dion also contributed models.

Sternberg, who went on to a successful career, soon was designing and then living in another nearby modern tract—this one a cooperative. It was Mile High Housing Association, 32 homes for about $12,000 each.

"Hawkins' homes were built within the original Sternberg site plan. But to Hawkins, style took precedence over economy," the author of the National Register nomination for Arapahoe Acres wrote. "Hawkins designed unique and increasingly larger and more luxurious homes. Initially built and sold on speculation, Arapahoe Acres' homes were more often designed and built by Hawkins under contract with individual home buyers."

By 1957 Arapahoe Acres was complete. In 1998, it became the first mid-century modern neighborhood named to the National Register.


Photography: Julius Shulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute - Los Angeles (2004.R.10), Ernie Braun, Homer Page, Yousuf Karsh, Robert H. Levin, Bill Sublette, Peter Blank; and courtesy Museum of Modern Art Archives - New York, Palm Springs Historical Society, A. Quincy Jones Papers (Special Collections - Young Research Library, UCLA), Sternberg Family Collection, Taquitz River Estates, Cathye Smithwick, Ethan Stein, Duncan Smith, Todd Hays, Rico Tee Archive

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