The Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT) was founded to collect, archive and share documentation of the outer Cape’s exceptional modern architecture, restore a group of important, endangered modern houses, and to relaunch them as platforms for new creative work.
The Outer Cape comprises a unique landscape of beaches, pinewoods, tidal marshes, and glacial ponds imbued with a brilliant quality of light that has drawn artists and writers since the nineteenth century.
Starting in the late 1930s, the Outer Cape also attracted some of the prime movers of modern architecture, including architects Marcel Breuer, Serge Chermayeff and Olav Hammarstrom and engineer Paul Weidlinger, who built houses for themselves, their friends and clients. Walter Gropius, Xanti Schawinski, Konrad Wachsmann, Constantino Nivola, the Saarinen family and Florence and Hans Knoll all either rented summer cottages or were frequent houseguests here. The vibrant community also included artists Gyorgy Kepes and Saul Steinberg as well as numerous writers, academics and their students.
This group of international refugees and their friends made a home for themselves in the secluded pinewoods of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown; many are even buried here. This collection of creative people believed in the power of design to improve the human condition and to integrate man with nature. They applied those principles equally to the great projects they undertook in the world beyond Cape Cod and to their own cottages, which were sometimes made with salvaged material, Homasote and driftwood.
The Cape’s modern architects enjoyed a lifestyle based on communion with nature, solitary creativity (designing, painting, writing) and communal festivity. Their houses embody this ethos with their blurring of indoors and outdoors, their isolated studios and outdoor spaces for evening parties. Serious work took place there, and ideas were often exchanged during long walks in the woods or while wading in a pond.
This confluence began in 1937, when Gropius and a close circle of his Bauhaus faculty and friends spent the summer on a small island at the base of the Cape, reprising their communal European holidays and trying to plot a new life for themselves in their adopted land. From there the members of the group spread out to transmit their revolutionary teachings, but they never lost their connection to the place. At the same time a group of mostly self-taught designers either bought or inherited large pieces of land in Wellfleet and Truro when land was very inexpensive and many houses were abandoned. By the mid 1940s, these two groups met through mutual friends, and the European exiles began to settle around the kettle ponds on the Wellfleet/Truro line.
House Restoration Project
Legislation was introduced to create the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1959, and for the next two years, while it was debated, over one hundred houses were built within the park boundaries, including seven significant modern ones. When the legislation passed in 1961, freezing all new development, the homeowners were bought out and the new houses were slated for eventual demolition. The seven National Park Service (NPS) -owned modern houses fell into administrative limbo, where they have languished ever since, most of them empty and deteriorating.
The Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT) was founded in 2007 as a grassroot organization with the mission of preventing the demolition of this group of significant modern houses owned by the National Park Service (NPS) on outer Cape Cod, and of renovating and repurposing these structures as loci for creativity and scholarship, as well as locating and archiving all available related materials. The more than 100 modern houses in the area represent a little-known cultural asset we all share. CCMHT has leased and restored three of these abandoned, federally owned houses.
- The Kugel/Gips house, 1970, Charles Zehnder
- The Hatch Cottage, 1961, Jack Hall
- The Weidlinger House, 1953, Paul Weidlinger
Through artist and scholar residencies, tours, symposia, collaborations with schools of architecture (e.g., the Wentworth Institute, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design,) CCMHT strives to bring fresh thinking to regional problems of gentrification, lack of affordable housing, moribund employment for young people, the need for off-season cultural tourism and coexistence with a fragile environment.
Founding Director. Principal, PM Design
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
President, Architect, Film maker
Secretary, Historic Preservation Consultant
Administrator, business owner
Designer, Business owner
Mary Anne Agresti
Chair, Boston Society of Architects, Cape and Is. Chapter
Principal, The Design Initiative, Hyannis MA
Visiting Associate Professor, Pratt Institute
Ware Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
K Michael Hays
Professor of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and Adjunct Curator of Architecture at the Whitney Museum of American Art
Assoc. Professor in Design and Technology, Pratt Institute.
Editorial Director, Metropolis Books
For their assistance and support we would like to thank:
The Cape Cod National Seashore:
George Price, Superintendent
Sue Moynihan, Chief, Interpretation and Cultural Resources Management
Bill Burke, Cultural Resources Program Manager
The Town of Wellfleet’s Community Preservation Board
Sarah Korjeff, Cape Cod Commission
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum
Mary Daniels, Archivist
Ati Gropis Johansen
Design Within Reach
Noa Hall and Ike Williams
The Zehnder family
Gilly Hatch and the Hatch family
And we would like to thank all the volunteers who have generously given their time and support for the project.