Introduction to the Neighborhood and Modern Design

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KendalCommonRD_45-1Kendal Common is a unique type of single-family home community that emerged in North America following World War II, positing an alternative to the tract house suburban developments then spreading across the country. The modernity of this development includes a sensitivity to siting and solar orientation, economy of design and innovation in program and construction technology.  These houses exemplified a desire to create shared a community based upon the technical promise and social ideals embodied in the modernist movement.  

The first such development – globally – was Snake Hill in Belmont, which was conceived and developed by architect Carl Koch in 1940.   Following the disruption of the War, Koch resumed work with modern homes and modern developments, and in 1948 met with young members of the local academic and research communities to lay the groundwork for the creation of Kendal Common. Though Weston’s only chartered, planned modern development, Kendal Common is in fact one of many such communities to be found in the Metro-West suburbs of Boston that emerged primarily between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s.  These in turn were part of a national movement that included the Eichler Home communities in California, Arapahoe Acres in Denver, and Hollins Hills in suburban Washington DC, to name a few.  Koch himself initiated the development of Weston’s Spruce Hill neighborhood in 1954 through his Tech-Built corporation. In recent years, the Spruce Hill neighborhood has lost a number of these original houses to newer development that is not at all in sync with the style, scale, or ethos of the original structures.   

As the overall plan for Kendal Common began to emerge, land was explicitly set aside for communal use and, by 1952, a broader list of leading modern architects - Robert Woods Kennedy, Hugh Stubbins, the Architects Collaborative (TAC), Carleton Richmond and Walter Bogner - joined Koch in the project. 

The designs were generally low slung – one or at most two story with flat or low-sloped roofs – and modest, creating a light touch on the environment.  There is a strong emphasis on integration with the surrounding landscape through large expanses of plate glass, which enable visual connections to the outdoors from modest interior spaces. 

The houses are typically built of a combination of natural and readily available industrial materials and systems, some of which – particularly in the Koch designed Tech-Built houses – were developed by the architect.  This aesthetic extends to the interiors, where wood and unadorned plaster surfaces are often juxtaposed, balancing warmth, durability and flexibility. The design character is reflected in the overall building massing, layout and details. Applied ornament is avoided, and the inherent properties of various materials become fundamental to design. 

The integration of these social ideals and planning strategies with emerging materials, systems and construction techniques resulted in a rich variety of modern architecture, all well sited, modestly scaled with uplifting, light-filled spaces, meeting requirements for quiet, privacy and personal activities, while retaining the benefits of a larger community with common purpose.