Modernist Homes Are at Risk In the Hamptons

It's a concerning moment for architectural history

Demolition of house
Not even historically significant buildings are safe.
Getty Images

There’s a reason why Modernist architecture still has plenty of enthusiastic fans today — from historians who revisit past decades of home design to enthusiastic buyers looking to call a distinctive and historic space home. But not every iconic Modernist home is loved, honored and preserved — in some cases, some exemplars of residential architecture have been bulldozed (literally or metaphorically) to make way for something new and potentially less impressive.

And, for a variety of reasons, this has happened in the Hamptons more than once.

That’s one of the big takeaways from a recent Curbed article by Kim Velsey. Velsey points to a host of Modernist homes in the Hamptons, including houses designed by Norman Jaffe and Philip Johnson, whose new owners viewed them more as development sites than livable spaces in their own right. As Velsey points out, the same sort of architectural preservation agencies that exist in New York City aren’t as present if you head due east — and that can lead to some of the issues described in the article.

The Hamptons Changes. Its Annual Softball Game Remains.
Painters, novelists, politicians, ringers. The list of those who have played, umpired or attended the Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game is equal parts iconic and chaotic.

That isn’t to say that there are no efforts being made to preserve the Hamptons’ Modernist architecture. Among the people quoted in the Curbed article is Timothy Goldberg of Hamptons 20th Century Modern, whose website describes the organization as “working to bring greater recognition to these homes and their designers, to better honor their place in history, and to secure their legacy.”

The organization maintains an array of listings of Modernist homes in the region that are for sale, and a database of contractors who specialize in working on the houses in question. Will it be enough to keep these spaces protected? That’s the big question — but it’s a lot easier to answer as more people are invested in protecting them.

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