HC&G Celebrates 20 Years of Architecture

Preston T. Phillips reflects on the Hamptons as a laboratory for ideas.
Web Prestonphillips 0013 Kerry Sharkey Miller

Architect Preston T. Phillips. Photography by Mick Hales.

I first encountered the notion of “Hamptons Architecture” one day in the early 1970s. I was a student at Auburn University, and a studio professor brought in an article about two Gwathmey Siegel residences on the beach in Bridgehampton. They had been built next to each other and were meant to be conversing, a concept very foreign to me at the time.

By 1977, while I was working on my first project on the East End, I went to see these two modernist compositions on Surfside Drive. Indeed, the shape, size, detailing, and siting of each house, coupled with the homogeneous use of materials, did bring a conversation to mind—a conversation not just between the two structures, but also with nearby houses designed by Norman Jaffe, Myron Goldfinger, and Andrew Geller, among others. They spoke of scale, materials, solids and voids, and color. They spoke of reverence for the land, the views, and of the space between one another.

Sadly, most of these homes have disappeared: erased wholesale by rapacious developers, hidden behind gates and hedges, or made unrecognizable by thoughtless renovations. Any meaningful conversation has now become impossible. Instead, the new behemoths on the block spend more time yelling than conversing, bullying their smaller, aging neighbors and turning a deaf ear to pleas for restraint.

Quiet conversations still exist in a few choice small pockets, however, such as Jobs Lane in Bridgehampton, where a clutch of revelatory modernist homes stands firm among the reeds of Mecox Bay. In this dreamy spot, I imagine Norman Jaffe, Ulrich Franzen, Peter Blake, and Horace Gifford having wonderful daily chats as the swans glide past and cocktails and canapés are served, all in the shimmer of a glorious sunset.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: The Hamptons: Laboratory for Ideas.