Most of us are familiar with the Cape Cod house style (known as “A Cape”)that has become a staple of American residential architecture. And you may have seen
the stately colonial-era homes in the historic districts of Falmouth, Sandwich, and other towns. But you may be surprised to discover that there are about 100 historic gems of modernist architecture in Cape Cod.
In the mid-20th century, a new breed of builders was drawn to Cape Cod, especially along the Outer Cape around Wellfleet. Land was available and relatively inexpensive. Since building codes were virtually non-existent, there was room for experimentation and creative designs. A number of the builders came from affluent New England families but traded their futures in business or finance for the chance to try something different. They set out to live much as settlers might have – farming, fishing, and learning to build – while exploring modern architectural styles in a raw natural setting. Other contributors were skilled European architects and craftsmen drawn to the Cape in the same period and willing to share their knowledge and experience with a growing community of seasoned and aspiring modernist architects in Cape Cod.
Together, these builders took cues from everything Cape Cod has to offer. The shuck shacks, piers, and bridges, and even the iconic Cape Cod house influenced their use of local materials, simple structures, and functional spaces. The open shorelines, rugged landscapes and abundant nature pressed them to blur the lines between inside and out with windows giving way to glass walls and outdoor spaces skillfully incorporated. Likewise, the Cape Cod art community inspired these pioneers to embrace the creative element and experiment with bold lines and flowing light.
The resulting art colony of sorts produced dozens of mid-century modern homes and cottages on Cape Cod. Some of the best known are Hatch House by Nathanial Saltonstall and Jack Hall, Kepes House and Scott House by Marcel Breuer, Lechay House and Halprin House by Hayden Walling, Hammarstrom House by Olav Hammarstrom, Kugel/Gips House by Charles Zehnder, and Chermayeff Studio by Serge Chermayeff. These treasures and others have been at risk of deterioration and demolition, but new interest in their historical and architectural significance has led to the creation of a trust established to try to save them. Some, like the Hatch House on Cape Cod National Seashore property, are now available to rent for a vacation getaway.
Whether you’re an architecture buff, a nature enthusiast, or an art lover, modernist architecture in Cape Cod is a sight to behold. Be sure to take some time to explore these unique creations if you have the time to further explore!