Gropius and Breuer's Hagerty House
by Alexander Gorlin
Completed in 1938, this proverbial "box on the rocks" designed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer sits on a spectacular rocky site directly on the Atlantic Ocean in Cohasset, Massachusetts.
The Hagerty House was initially conceived as a summer house, then turned into a full-time residence during the design phase. The client, John Hagerty, was an undergraduate at Harvard and converted to modern architecture when he heard Gropius give a talk shortly after the latter had arrived from London.
Combining rough stone walls and wood siding, the cubic house is a study in contrasts between the two materials. The stone walls provide a conceptual framework and plinth for the planar walls of the wood and steel volume of the main living spaces. As protection against potential damage from tides and storms, only the garage is on the ground level. A high stone wall wraps around a U-shaped court facing the ocean, providing privacy from the road, while the upper floors span across the walled-in garden.
Using the same parti as the Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, the facade facing the street is blank except for narrow windows and slits, while the ocean side opens up with large panes of glass and generous terraces and balconies. The L-shaped plan recalls Le Corbuiser's Villa Garches.
The house is one room deep to maximize views, with the living and dining areas on the main level suspended above the garden court below and opening onto a terrace facing the ocean. Even the long kitchen and pantry have dramatic views. On the third floor all five bedrooms are arrayed along the length of the house, facing the water, with an open terrace off the master bedroom and another next to the main stair.
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This article is excerpted from Tomorrow's Houses: New England Modernism, text by Alexander Gorlin, photography by Geoffrey Gross, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Rizzoli.