Until his death on October 26, John Johansen was the last living member of the Harvard 5, the group of architects who settled in New Canaan, Connecticut after World War II. Eliot Noyes was the first to buy land in New Canaan and he encouraged his colleagues—Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, Landis Gores, and John Johansen to follow. They designed houses for their own families as well as clients and created a laboratory of modern residential architecture among the clapboard Colonials of this small Connecticut town.
In the spring of 2010, a colleague and I traveled to Cape Cod to interview Johansen for the Glass House Oral History Project. He was 93 at the time, and with his wife Ati, had recently moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts from his Plastic Tent House in Stanfordville, New York.
With his characteristic generosity and wit, Johansen welcomed us to his house and announced that he’d put on his best Shakespearean shirt for the interview. We talked about the beginnings of modernism, the 7 houses he designed in New Canaan, and his larger commissions. He considered the Oklahoma Theater Center his best and most controversial building, and among his most notable houses–the Bridge House, or Warner House, in New Canaan and the elegant Goodyear house in Darien, which is now on the market.
We discussed his friendship with Philip Johnson. For a long time they were next-door neighbors and the two Johansen kids had an open invitation to swim in the round pool at The Glass House. Johansen appreciated Johnson’s intellect and the two often discussed, in Johansen’s words, “critical matters—approaches to design.” An article that includes the full contents of our interview can be read on the Glass House blog: Architecture and Metaphor: The Career of John M. Johansen.
The news of his death saddened many in the New Canaan community and at The Glass House. A resident of New Canaan until the mid 1970s, he returned many times to attend the Modern House Day events sponsored by the New Canaan Historical Society or to speak about modern architecture. His eloquence and his unwavering passion for modernism were an inspiration.
–Gwen North Reiss