“Landis Gores: An Architect’s Story”
Documentary short on Vimeo (link)
Ultra: I Was There
World War II memoir by Landis Gores (link)
Landis Gores: Architecture of Konsequenz
2020 book by Mark Markiewicz AIA
Due for second printing: copies can be reserved through
the New Canaan Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gores Pavilion is open by appointment (link)
Landis Gores (1919-1991) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to parents of German heritage who greatly valued intellectual and cultural sophistication. His father, a lawyer, died at the height of the Great Depression, leaving the family in financial straits, but 12-year-old Landis faced that uncertain future with a resourcefulness that would sustain him time and again. Entranced by the city’s buildings from early childhood, he mastered mechanical drawing in high school and graduated cum laude at the age of 15, then attended Princeton on scholarship to learn advanced drawing and drafting and the history of architecture while majoring in English and the Classics. He graduated summa cum laude in 1939.
From Princeton, Gores went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, recently severed from its Beaux Arts roots to flourish under Walter Gropius, founder of the German Bauhaus and exponent of the Internationalism emerging as the new American architectural aesthetic. Gores relished the initiative and comprehensive hands-on discipline at the GSD and enjoyed its artistic ferment even as he skirted its unquestioning enthusiasm. He became friendly with Philip Johnson, a fellow Midwesterner also grounded in the Classics and architectural history and also inclined toward a maverick modernism. Gores received the AIA School Medal, the GSD’s top academic award, when he graduated in 1942.
World War II was in full swing; after graduation Gores reported for active duty with the First Cavalry Division. But he soon applied, as an officer “versed in enemy language,” to the Army’s new Military Intelligence Training Center, hoping to draw on his ancestral German. Accepted into the program at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, he was tested only in French, then trained as a French liaison officer. But he managed meantime, with the help of two staff sergeants and an obscure German handbook, to learn German military organization, equipment and tactics. Shipped off to London in 1943, upon arrival he was informed that his designated posting behind enemy lines in France had been cancelled due to massive reorganization of the invasion buildup. Days later a friend from Camp Ritchie got him an interview with his chief officer, in charge—as it turned out—of a small group of Americans aiding the top-secret British effort to decode intercepts from the German High Command. Gores spent eighteen months interpreting Nazi troop movements for “Ultra,” for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Order of the British Empire.
Directly after the war, from 1945 to 1951, Gores joined Philip Johnson in New York City as right-hand man and sometime associate, executing all drawings and debating with Johnson design concepts for the Farney House, Booth House, Rockefeller Town House, MoMA Annex and Sculpture Garden—and the Hodgson House and Johnson’s own Glass House, both in New Canaan, Connecticut. Gores designed a house for his own family in New Canaan and in 1951 established his own practice in town. Johnson had already moved his office to New Canaan, and Eliot Noyes, John Johansen and Marcel Breuer—all from the Graduate School of Design—also took up residence. The five architects kibbitzed frequently, crossed paths often, were all trendsetters in their own right, and together attained enough notoriety to become known later collectively as the Harvard Five.
It was a heady time for postwar architecture in the postwar nation, with modernism hitting the mainstream —especially in New Canaan, with cars lining up for a glimpse of the Glass House, New York magazines competing to showcase the avant-garde, commissions rolling in. Gores was just hitting his stride, with his family home on the cover of House + Home, when in 1954 he was stricken with polio. Despite great loss of mobility he persisted, even from his hospital bed, in his practice. Over three decades he designed several York Research Laboratory buildings (1955-62), the Irwin Pool House/Gores Pavilion (1961), the Harris House (1962), the Close House (1965), Strathmoor Village (1967), the House for All Seasons (1977), and a number of other buildings. Influenced early by the warm lyricism of Frank Lloyd Wright and the cool stateliness of Mies van der Rohe, Gores continuously sought to bring the two disparate approaches into play. He is known for the meticulous execution and clarity of his buildings, but he will be remembered for their repose and grace—qualities he described in either German or French: Konsequenz and mouvement.
In 1973 he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.