Fire Island Modernist: seductive and sustainable architecture (VIDEO)

book by Christopher Rawlins
CC BY 2.0 Margaret Badore

In an age of cookie-cutter houses and suburban sprawl, Horace Gifford refused to cut down trees to make room for his beach houses. "Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction" is a new book by Christopher Rawlins that chronicles the life and work of this lesser known architect.

Gifford's work on Fire Island offers many lessons in sustainable design. "The houses were built around the landforms in such a way that maximized the sense of the site," said Rawlins. "But it wasn't just the way it was built, but the materials that were chosen too." Gifford's houses are built from local wood and other materials that could be carried to construction site "by hand."

Rawlins explains that Gifford's approach was ahead of its time:

The small size of Gifford's beach houses is another way they help inhabitants live lightly on the land. "You don't need to build a gigantic house," said editor Alastair Gordon. "That's a lesson we can re-learn." Size also impacts how families, lovers and guests relate to each other. Gordon said the simple, sensual designs of the small houses forces people to live more intimately.

The book is a labor of love, with ten years of archival work done prior to publishing Gordon said. More than a history of houses, "Fire Island Modernist" also offers a glimpse into the pre-AIDS gay culture. Gordon said they wanted to create a book about "architecture with a social history."

Slide Show: Horace Gifford's sustainable Fire Island beach houses

Tags: Architects | Books

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