Jack Phillips, dune studio, c. 1938, Wellfleet, MA. Courtesy of Florence Phillips.
There are almost 100 experimental midcentury houses in the woods and dunes of outer Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Starting in the 1930s, amid better-known colonies of painters and writers, a cosmopolitan community of architects settled in Wellfleet and Truro, building for themselves before taking clients. Ranging from self-taught East Coast Brahmins—who flourished as bohemian design-builders—to international stars such as Marcel Breuer, the group forged a unique modernism that fused Bauhaus ideals with the building traditions of a New England fishing town. Their rigorous designs solved genuine problems, yet often feel as ephemeral as summer camps; built with prosaic local materials and set lightly on the fragile landscape, they exemplify what we now call green building. With new photographs by Raimund Koch, new drawings for eight houses, new interviews, and hundreds of archival images, Cape Cod Modern tells the fascinating story of this little-known architecture and subculture.
Coauthor Peter McMahon is principal of PM Design and founding director of the Cape Cod Modern House Trust. Previously he worked with Peter Gluck and Partners Architects and Team Architects in New York, and with Hickox Williams Architects in Boston. In 2006, McMahon curated an exhibition for the Provincetown Art Museum on the modernist architecture of outer Cape Cod; he then founded the Trust to document and preserve these buildings. With seven important, federally owned houses once slated for demolition, he has been negotiating their lease and restoration with support from donations, volunteers, and town funds. The first two restorations are complete, and the third will be completed in 2014. The work of the Trust has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Architectural Record, Preservation, Architectural Digest (Germany), and elsewhere. McMahon has spoken at Harvard, the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Boston Society of Architects.
Coauthor Christine Cipriani is a Boston-based writer on architecture, design, and culture. Her work has appeared in Architectural Record, Dwell, ArchitectureBoston, and other publications; previously she edited nonfiction at publishers including Beacon Press, Penguin India, and Random House. She has vacationed in Wellfleet for more than thirty years, and first wrote about the town's modern heritage for Modernism magazine. Cipriani studied English literature at Yale, the University of Michigan, and Oxford, and architectural history at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
The Cape Cod Modern House Trust was founded in 2007 to prevent the demolition of a significant group of mid-twentieth-century homes owned by the National Park Service. The Trust now works to lease, renovate, and repurpose these structures as loci for creativity and scholarship, and to document midcentury architecture and culture on Outer Cape Cod. In 2010 the Kugel/Gips House (1970, Charles Zehnder) was restored and opened for an artist/scholar residency program. Through residencies, house tours, symposia, and partnerships with architecture schools, the Trust also strives to bring fresh thinking to contemporary regional issues of community, sustainability, and built form.