Teardowns often raise a furor in a community when they result in the razing of significant older homes. Regulations developed by a New England preservationist group have helped protect Modern houses built by Marcel Breuer, the rationale for saving the New Canaan homes is interesting:
New Canaan became a center for Modern houses when the Hungarian-born Breuer — a product of the Bauhaus school of design in pre-Nazi Germany — and four other architects moved to the town in the 1940s and used it as a canvas for their creations. Breuer adapted new designs to American architecture, such as a flat or nearly flat roof and cantilever construction.
Other Modern characteristics include muted colors, the lack of ornamentation and the emphasis on structural systems. The homes have since become a New Canaan tourist attraction. The town’s zoning rules do not forbid razing the homes but require 90-day notice for tear-downs.
“People come from as far away as Japan on a routine basis,” First Selectman Jeb Walker said.
Modern homes also serve as models for today’s new energy-efficient houses. Their modest size, overhangs that provide shade and features that take advantage of sunlight for solar power are old features suddenly new again.
The article suggests several possible reasons for saving these homes:
1. One involved person said “the preservation effort is “a way for America to keep its architectural memory.””
2. The homes are older and older homes deserve some recognition. Too many new homes at one time can radically alter the character of a community.
3. The homes were designed by an important architect and were part of an important style (Modernism).
4. The houses draw visitors which adds up to tourist dollars. This also helps make New Canaan distinct from other communities.
5. The Modern homes were the opening wave of environmentally-friendly homes.
Of course, there could be counterarguments to these five arguments. But this particular community has decided that these Modern homes are worth saving. Interestingly, another community (the article hints at a case in Westport, Connecticut) might choose otherwise. I suspect Reason #4 above, the fact that New Canaan is known for these homes, goes a long way in protecting these homes. The Wikipedia entry for the community says about 80 modern homes were built after World War II, something few suburbs could boast of.