For those of us who are fans of mid-century design, we are fortunate to live at a time when home owners not only respect this style, but actively look to it for inspiration for their own spaces. Recently we had clients who, new to the area from France, spent several months searching for a mid-century home in Andover, a suburb just north of Boston. They were lucky to find this house designed in 1952 by architect William Hajjar. Hajjar, who received his masters degree in architecture from MIT and later became professor of architecture at Penn State University, was known primarily for his contemporary architectural vision that challenged the conservative style that dominated the State College community during the 1950’s and 1960’s. During his tenure at Penn State, he designed over 30 contemporary houses and buildings in the area, completely transforming the landscape from traditional to modern ranch-style homes primarily seen out West. His design aesthetic can be linked to that of Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright.
The original house designed by Hajjar in Andover stays true to his style. He liked to site his homes into hill sides with the garage discretely tucked under the house and into the hill slope. Another signature design move is to locate an entry hidden from the street at mid level. In this particular home, a curved path leads up to a door that is tucked away on the side of the house. It is clear that he loved for his homes to connect to the natural landscape. He extended the beautifully laid concrete block walls beyond the boundary of the house and into the landscape to hold back the sloping land and form outdoor patios and stairs. He also knew how to design a durable building. Almost 70 years after the original house was built, the concrete block retaining walls have not buckled under the harsh New England winters.
Our design challenge: How do you add a second floor to this classic single story ranch without overwhelming the original Hajjar design? We respected the foundation of the original house by extruding the volume of the living and dining rooms to create a second floor. The original chimney, built of honed blue-stone, became the armature for the new stair to reach the second floor master bathroom suite. We also extended Hajjar’s curtain wall façade from the first floor to the new second floor. The strongly graphic black and white color scheme was incorporated into the addition; the second floor is clad in charcoal vertical siding and appears to float over the white concrete block of the first floor.
A note for Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados: While not many of us associate the modest "Ranch" house with Wright, he designed his first "Usonian" house for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs (a house commonly known as Jacobs 1) in 1936. This was a highly innovative house with its one story layout, low slope roof, concrete slab on grade, and large windows overlooking the rear yard, all features not only later incorporated in the typical Ranch house, but also apparent in William Hajjar’s designs.
Text by Colin Flavin, AIA