When one thinks of architecture in Maine, three tropes come immediately to mind: The classic and spare early 19th century white houses and village buildings so beloved by the Dilettante; the large shingled summer houses of the rich that occupy much of our 3,000 miles of coastline; and the prefabs and mobile homes that are the homes of necessity for much of the state’s population. But of course, there are many other styles too, from the cardboard corporate Spanish of Taco Bell to a flourishing scene in modern architecture.
Mossley Hall, the W.B. Howard cottage at Bar Harbor, designed by William Ralph Emerson, 1888
I had hoped to run down to Portland today–a nearly 3 hour drive—to view the Storefront for Architecture’s exhibit about the last 50 years of modern architecture in Maine, and hear a lecture about same by Philip Isaacson, a Harvard trained lawyer who loves architecture and is architecture critic of the Portland Press Herald, and winner of the 2010 Maine Prize for Architecture. Unfortunately, fall chores and commitments made the trip impossible for today, and I will forgo the exhibit until next week, sadly missing the lecture.
I have never met Philip Isaacson, but have been entertained and educated by his writings about art, design and architecture, including his very grown up children’s book Round Buildings, Square Buildings, and Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish, which I highly recommend for both its wonderful photographs of vernacular and designed architecture, and the perceptive writing about what constitutes great design.
I have however, had several occasions to chat with Mr. Isaacson by phone on other matters of art & history, and by coincidence happened to have reason to talk to him yesterday. In the course of the conversation, which was about early 19th century woodcuts, he mentioned that his own house, featured in the current exhibit, was also in last month’s Dwell magazine. Naturally as soon as we hung up, I was off to both the Storefront for Architecture website, and to Dwell Magazine’s web site. ( I was supposed to be off for work, but I’ve never met a diversion I didn’t like).
The Isaacson House
As a student at Harvard, Issacson studied law, but was fascinated by design, and followed closely what was happening over at the graduate school for design, then headed by Josep Luis Sert. In the late 1950’s Isaacson proposed a project for his own house, a small house on an in-town lot in Lewiston, Maine. Although interested, Sert ultimately declined, and in 1959, Harvard trained F. Frederic Bruck was commissioned for the job. For a budget of $25,000 (ultimately $32,000), Bruck produced a small jewel box of a house, functional and spare, with a floor plan that echoed that of the traditional maine farmhouse, rooms arranged around a chimney core. The house is carefully maintained by Isaacson in its original state.
Philip Isaacson at home in his library (Roth photo, Dwell)
I will review the architecture exhibit next week.
For the complete story of the Isaacson House, by Chelsea Holder Baker, and a terrific slide show of photos by Eric Roth, please visit the full article, A Fine Vintage, on the Dwell website by clicking HERE