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Ed Ford Blogs About His Week at the Kugel/Gips House

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Edward Ford is the author of The Details of Modern Architecture (MIT, 1990, German edition: Birkhauser, 1994, Japanese Edition: Maruzen, 2000) and The Details of Modern Architecture, Volume 2 (MIT, 1996, Japanese Edition: Maruzen, 2000). He is currently a Vincent and Eleanor Shea Professor at University of Virginia. In May CCMHT was honored to have him he was an Artist/Scholar in Residence at the Kugel/Gips House. Below are photos of some of his projects.
It is the end of my third day at the Kugel Gips house. The sun has come out after two days of rain.  In some ways the house is just as enjoyable without the full sun. The pond is more enigmatic in the fog.  As much as anything I enjoy the acoustics of the house. The birds start in just after dawn in an encyclopedia of birdcalls. This evening something was going on with the Mourning Doves. I could not count how many were singing around the house, and despite the melancholy nature of the call that gives the bird its name, I suspect romance was in the air. By dark the birds are quieter and the frogs take over. Glen Murcutt, the great Australian architect once told me that  in a good house you could always tell if it was raining outside. If this is true the Kugel Gips house is  a great one for you are never  much disconnected for the outdoors. It seems at one with the place it is in.
Of course most layman would say the house does not belong here. This is not a Cape Cod house. “Cape Cod” is a style I have always had a problem recognizing. Years ago I bought a beautiful little house in New Jersey that I called a Shingle Style bungalow. A  realtor informed me that I was mistaken. It was a “Cape Cod.” But even the well informed architectural scholar might argue that the Kugel Gips house is a bit out of place. It owes a great deal to Frank Lloyd Wright, to the Lloyd Lewis house in Illinois in particular, one of the best of his Usonian houses of the 1930s, a type developed for the Prairie, not for the coast. Thus the rules of contextually sensitive architecture are a bit confused. You may be able to build Cape Cod in New Jersey but you can’t build the Prairie Style on Cape Cod.
But whatever Kugel Gip’s debt to Wright its debt to this place, if not exactly this region,  is equal. This is what Lewis Mumford said regional architecture was about, something that comes from without  is informed by something that is native. Easy to say; not so easy to determine, but I like to think it is true of the best of Modernism on the Cape. In the Chermayef House nearby I can see, under the  trim, Homasote and shed roofs, the ghost of the rigid, gridded frame of the house he built in Sussex, Bentley Wood, fifteen years earlier. Marcel Breuer’s houses, also nearby, seem at first somewhat indifferent to local forms, but in his mind they grew of local New England building traditions. But are these elements really significant? Do these works really take anything of major significance from the genus loci? There have been  untold quantities of architecture, art and literature produced on Cape Cod, but much of the core of that work  was brought here from elsewhere. How how much was it  informed by what is here? Eugene O’Neal, Hans Hoffman, Mark Rothko, Norman Mailer and Robert Motherwell all spent a great deal of time in Provincetown. Did it inform their work or was it just a pleasant spot to produce that work?
I think the most important thing about this question is not the answer but the answer we want to hear. We all want it to be true. We want very much to believe that within the most abstract black and white composition by Motherwell or the most enigmatic fuzzy edged red squared Rothko painting there is  some relation to the place they came from.

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