The rich history of modernist architecture in the Hampton’s is jeopardized by too many development spec houses

This past weekend I had the chance to show a friend, who hadn’t been here in 20 years, what the Hampton’s, so beautiful this time of year, looks like now. He had read a lot about the massive development taking place.  Being an architecture buff, he wanted to see again some of the iconic houses, like the reknowned Charles Gwathmey house, designed in 1966, in Amagansett. It’s a seminal work, always referred to when discussing modernism in the Hampton’s. Gwathmey along with Michael Graves and Richard Meier dominated modern American architecture in the 1960s and ’70s. Then there are modernist houses out east such as one (by the also revered) late Norman Jaffe, built in 1977, featuring massive sloping walls of stone and glass. Sadly, after 20 years designing houses in the area, few of Jaffe’s works remain in original condition.  However,  this Jaffe home, perhaps the only to have survived intact, is in East Hampton.

There are some wonderful architects working out east today, (see my website architecture page for some examples). Unfortunately however, the Hampton’s is now being over developed, with houses that aren’t part of the vernacular. It’s changing the landscape dramatically, and my friend was stunned to see the change and how the area is a haven for developer spec houses.

The New York Times recently delved into this subject, and I was quoted, along with the esteemed architecture critic and author, Paul Goldberger.

“I’m concerned that the Farrellization of the Hamptons and the suburbanization of the Hamptons are linked,” said Donna Paul, a Sag Harbor resident and owner of Designer Previews, a company that matches architects and designers with clients seeking to build custom homes. “These are houses being punched out in record time, and that will make the tone and feeling of the Hamptons more generic.”

Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic who has written extensively about the Hamptons, said Mr. Farrell’s company had spawned a host of imitators matching his architectural look, if not his company’s quality. “If I see one more shiny new gambrel roof, shingled house I’ll scream,” Mr. Goldberger said. “It’s become a hopeless cliché, almost a blight.”


Charles Gwathmey’s modernist architecture.

An interior shot of one of Charles Gwathmey’s modernist, now iconic Hampton’s houses.

A Norman Jaffe modernist house built with a sloping wall of glass and stone.

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