Art and architecture maintain a self-evident, though largely unarticulated, relationship. Paraphrasing and inverting Ad Reinhardt’s maxim applies: “architecture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a sculpture.” Yet the art world pays scant attention to buildings, at least when the conversation ventures beyond a new museum.
But unlike art—much of which lives in storage or on private walls—architecture is there for the seeing. And the world of architecture, like the world of art, is rife with untold stories and unknown work that unlike most under-recognized art, lies hiding in plain sight.
In March 2020, when the pandemic began and galleries closed, my wife Dyanne and I got into our car and went traveling to see architecture in the field. These trips started when the gallery’s Instagram account was created in 2015. Now they became the daily diary of our pandemic life. Since traffic was nonexistent in the disease’s early days, we ranged far and fast. Destinations were identified and corroborated using Google Street View: could the building be photographed without trespassing?
Like art, architecture reveals itself in myriad ways. Since nothing comes from nowhere, and little is less nowhere than the built environment, anecdotal webs began to be woven, with the local emerging as an intricate historical document.
Below, a look at how 10 buildings and their architects can reveal the exigency of the personal relationships, inclusive memory, and community recognition that lives in the architecture and art that surround us.
While the stories buildings tell tie architecture to art, and social circumstance to personal history, the unexpected discovery of work not yet widely recognized is a source of revelation. Myron Goldfinger’s (b. 1933) houses are omnipresent in the New York metropolitan region yet little known to the architecture or art communities at large.
I first encountered Goldfinger’s work at 454 E Shore Road, Kings Point, just north of Great Neck. Its blank front elevation and sculptural volumes were unusual amid the McMansions of this wealthy community.
Of the several Goldfinger houses in the area, the best known is 10 Vanderbilt Drive in Sands Point. Filled with Mirós, Picassos and Calders, this grand 1981 residence was built for Fred Jaroslow, the COO of Weight Watchers. Known as “Luxury Liner,” 10 Vanderbilt Dr. had its moment as Leonardo DiCaprio’s beach party house in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film Wolf of Wall Street. Nearby is the architect’s in-laws’ house which was featured in the New York Times one year after the Goldfinger’s own home.
Myron Goldfinger was a student and life-long friend of Louis Kahn, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. Hired by Sybil Moholy-Nagy (an architecture historian who was married to László Moholy-Nagy), he taught at Pratt Institute for over a decade. Paul Rudolph was a regular guest speaking to his classes. Goldfinger went on to write Villages in the Sun (1969), a photographic study of the traditional community architecture of the Mediterranean which was an important influence. Louis Kahn, who revered such “architecture before architects,” wrote the book’s foreword.
Like Kahn’s work, Goldfinger’s stands apart from the International Style of early Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe with its emphasis on rectangular structure and open, planar form. In contrast, Goldfinger’s buildings are sculptural and universally formal, avoiding what had become a tame modernist traditionalism. In their singular attention to volume, surface, and light his houses are paradoxically monumental, begging to be seen in relation to the ancient vernacular architecture Goldfinger so comprehensively documented. Accordingly, the architect’s own Westchester home, built in 1970, is assembled from three distinct modular units—a 15‐foot cube, a triangular roof section, and a cantilevered deck, a standardized construction meant to yield something that was anything but standard. Each Goldfinger house is a unique, individual expression of timeless order.
So why are Myron Goldfinger’s buildings so little known? One reason is that, aside from a synagogue in Brighton Beach (itself near a Goldfinger home on the Manhattan Beach shoreline), his buildings are all residential. This was a deliberate choice. After employment with the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the architect Philip Johnson in the 1960s, Goldfinger decided he did not want to work in a large, hierarchical organization. He then opened a small firm with his wife June (who did all the interior design) focusing almost exclusively on residential architecture. In a profession where publicity had become essential in building reputations and getting commissions, Goldfinger let his work speak for itself.
Benjamin Thompson, the Architects Collaborative, and Walter Gropius, Mary Griggs and Jackson Burke House, 1953/61
The architecture world harbors a cadre largely unknown to the art world: preservationists, . While conservation is sometimes an issue in art, preservation in architecture is existential. Those policing threatened buildings are the bête noires of the real estate world. Organizations like USModernist and Docomomo US have been active in documenting significant postwar architecture and citing threats to historic properties, most recently calling attention to the destruction in darkness of Marcel Breuer’s 1947 Geller House I in Lawrence, Long Island.
Currently, the most endangered local property is the Mary Griggs and Jackson Burke House on Centre Island. Griggs assembled the most important collection of Japanese art in America. She was on the board of the Metropolitan Museum and established a Japanese art center at Columbia University. Walter Gropius, who was a close friend of the Burkes, and his firm the Architects Collaborative (TAC) gave the project to Gropius’ student Benjamin Thompson.
Griggs died in 2012, and the house was put on the market. It remains unsold today, but has fallen into extreme disrepair. I called the real estate agent who agreed to show me the house, but when I both called and emailed back to set a time I was ghosted. No house tours for suspected preservationists. For the time being the house is there to be seen at 145 Centre Island Road.
Josep Lluís Sert, Marian Willard Johnson House, 1948
This 1948 house was designed by the Catalan exile Josep Lluís Sert for his friend, the gallerist Marian Willard Johnson, on the grounds of her grandfather’s estate. Sert is best known as the designer of the Pavilion of Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris International Exposition for which Picasso’s Guernica was painted (along with work by Alexander Calder and Joan Miró). After completing the Willard house Sert and his architectural partner Paul Lester Wiener bought two nearby barns on her family’s property. To his barn Sert added a Le Corbusier–like bedroom addition perched atop piloti, or raised support structures. He asked Alexander Calder to construct a large stabile sculpture for the main living space. In the early 1950s Wiener’s barn was vacated after his divorce, eventually making its way to the sculptor Richard Lippold in 1955, an artist Willard’s gallery represented.
Lippold used the barn as a family residence and a studio where he made the suspended sculptures for Avery Fisher Hall, the Four Seasons bar, and the Metropolitan Museum staircase. In 1968, after being robbed at knifepoint in Manhattan, artist Ray Johnson, Lippold’s sometime partner from Black Mountain College days, moved to a small house in nearby Locust Valley. He lived there until his death in 1995.
Venter W. Tandy, Villa Lewardo, 1916
While our understanding of art history has become more inclusive, architecture history in the U.S. remains an exclusive white male bastion. Following George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests that arose in May 2020, questions of race and gender in architecture have still gone unaddressed.
One figure who ought to be canonized is Venter Woodson Tandy (1885–1949), who was the first registered African American architect in New York State and the first Black architect to belong to the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The Italianate Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, was designed by Tandy between 1916 and 1918 for A’lilia Walker and her mother, Madame C. J. Walker, an African American entrepreneur who became the first self-made female millionaire in the United States.
Tandy also designed the streamlined 1948 Ivey Delph Apartments at 13 Hamilton Terrace in Harlem, now listed on National Register of Historic Places.
Like Tandy, Beverly Loraine Greene (1915–57), the first licensed African American female architect in the United States, needs to be recognized. Greene moved to New York from Chicago in the late 1940s to work on MetLife’s Stuyvesant Town (a housing complex in which she could not then live due to her race). She went on to work with both Edward Durell Stone and Marcel Breuer on numerous projects, including the Student Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College. Greene died at the age of 42 while working with Breuer on the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and NYUs University Heights campus in the Bronx. Her funeral (and later, Malcolm X’s) was held at the Unity Funeral Chapels, 2252 Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem, a building Greene designed in 1953
Paul Rudolph, Barbara and Maurice A. Deane Residence, 1969
The 1962 Endo Pharmaceuticals Building in Garden City, with its brush hammered concrete masses, is one of Paul Rudolph’s seminal works. In the late 1960s, Maurice Deane, the CEO of Endo who commissioned the Garden City building, asked Rudolph to design a house for him and his wife in Great Neck. The design, with its emergent wood skeleton, was a departure from Rudolph’s signature Brutalist style. At present the waterfront house is vacant, fenced off and tragically ripe for demolition, another potential victim of a cruel real estate market.
Visiting the Deane residence solved a mystery identifying the architect of an unusual metal-sheathed bank building in Islandia (a Long Island town about an hour’s drive east of Kings Point) first seen in 2018. I had been unable to attribute this building to any architect. The emergent hexagonal framing of the main structure appeared identical to that of the Deane Residence. Indeed, the Islandia structure was designed by Rudolph in 1970 for a planned multi-building office park (for which the plans are seen on the Paul Rudolph Foundation website). Since the project was handed off to local contractors—the developers were unwilling to keep Rudolph on the payroll—only a single unit was built.
Louis Kahn, George Howe and Oscar Stonorov, Carver Court, 1941–43
Carver Court in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, was built during World War II as housing for African American defense steel workers. Designed by Louis Kahn, George Howe, and Oscar Stonorov, the buildings closely followed Le Corbusier’s “Five Points of Architecture,” illustrated most notably in his 1931 Villa Savoye, with main floors elevated on piloti, flat roofs, and horizontal windows. Over time the buildings have been extensively altered, enclosing open ground floors and adding less leak-prone gabled roofs, just as Kahn intended.
Originally envisioned as an integrated community Coatesville’s long history of racial violence—most notably the 1911 lynching of Zachariah Walker, an act that precipitated the NAACP’s successful campaign to get anti-lynching laws passed in Pennsylvania—rendered such demographics impossible and the development was opened as the racially segregated (George Washington) Carver Court.
Alfred Levitt, 26 Butternut Lane, 1947
Preceding Philip Johnson’s aspirational Speculative House of 1954 was Levittown, the postwar archetype of an affordable suburban paradise. But not for all.
26 Butternut Lane was the first Levittown house occupied by a Black family. In 1950 William Cotter, his wife Cynthia and their five children sublet this house by sidestepping local real estate agents. Original Levittown deeds contained a clause prohibiting the resale or rental of properties to “ANY PERSON OTHER THAN MEMBERS OF THE CAUCASIAN RACE” (though the clause was rendered moot by a 1948 Supreme Court ruling). So, when the Cotters tried to renew their lease or buy the house in 1953 they were evicted, a decision upheld by the courts.
William Cotter had been president of the Great Neck NAACP and chaired the Committee to End Discrimination in Levittown. Prior to the family’s eviction, signs were posted on the home reading “Brotherhood Begins at Home,” “Sell the Cotters Their House,” and “End Discrimination in Levittown.” Eventually, Cotter found an “eligible white man” to sell him another house on Butternut Lane. The image above shows the greatly altered house at present. Original Levittown houses are rare. The landmarked Weber House from 1947 is close. The Smithsonian is still looking for one to add to their collection.
Edward Durell Stone, Villa Riele, 1963
Edward Durell Stone’s 1963 Villa Riele is the manor house of the notoriously beguiling Baroness Gabriele Langer von Lagendorff’s estate in Lloyd Harbor. After retiring to her apartment at the Hotel Pierre, the Baroness listed her home with numerous agents for $24 million. It did not sell. Recently, the estate was put to auction, selling to an unnamed buyer for $9.4 million. Although construction equipment is present at the site, no work has been done and the house remains derelict. NYU Langone is currently repurposing another Stone building, the 1971 Bloomingdale’s in Garden City, New York.
Gordon Bunshaft, Chase Bank Branch, 1969
The Chase Bank branch built by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1969 using Gordon Bunshaft’s plans for his own 1963 Travertine House in Sagaponack is for sale and will most likely be demolished. Bunshaft’s East End house was bought from the Museum of Modern Art by Martha Stewart, who allowed it to deteriorate as remodeling plans were contested by her neighbor Harry Macklowe, whose collection recently came to auction. The house was subsequently sold and demolished, but not before its travertine was stripped and brought to Stewart’s home in Westchester.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Anne and Benjamin Rebhuhn House, 1937
There are many Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the tristate area, most notably in the utopian community Usonia, in Pleasantville, New York. Usonia was one of a number of local utopian communities established at the beginning of the postwar era. These included Kirby Lane North, established by the architectural photographer Ezra Stoller in Rye, New York (lefties in a right-wing enclave) and Village Creek in South Norwalk, Connecticut (the later community notable for its formal covenant mandating a “completely democratic character—no discrimination because of race, color, creed or politics.”
The extraordinarily elegant house Wright designed for Anne and Ben Rebhuhn in Great Neck, New York, is of particular interest. The Rebhuhns were the owners of Falstaff Press, an imprint noted for of its publication of risqué and progressive literature. (Ben was imprisoned in 1939 on Federal obscenity charges. Wright wrote an unsuccessful letter requesting dismissal. He later visited him in prison.), Built in 1937, as a 60-year-old Wright was emerging from a period of relative obscurity, the house is usually described as Usonian. It’s an inexpensive single-story house built for Broadacre City, Wright’s imagined suburban Utopia. But, as Caroline Zaleski points out in her book Long Island Modernism, the house is in fact transitional, displaying many of the grander characteristics of Wright’s earlier Prairie style, a decision many working in Wright’s Taliesin studio deemed backward looking.
The Rebhuhns developed a close friendship with Wright and he often used their house to meet with clients when he was in New York. A short ride from Solomon Guggenheim’s Trillora Court Estate in Sands Point, Hilla Rebay would confer here they planned the Guggenheim Museum.
Other local Wright houses include Crimson Beech on Staten Island, as well as two in New Jersey; the James B. Christie House and the Stuart Richardson House. While visiting the latter, the owner emerged and invited us in. Noticing a large Martín Ramírez drawing hanging near the entrance and a Picasso on the kitchen countertop, our host corroborated our surmisal that he was the art advisor Todd Levin and that this was his house.
In the art world reputations and market presence are made and maintained by powerful gatekeepers. Some might call them tastemakers. Social capital becomes market capital. Architecture is not there yet, even considering the flash of starchitecture over the past few decades. The issues of fashion and consensus are not now as easily sussed in architecture as they are in art. It is still the interwoven narratives that can provide meaning and context. With the architecture world largely free of the gatekeepers that lord over the art world, and ownership beyond the means of the majority, the built environment remains an accessible terra nullius.