Few architectural design problems are as tricky as adding to a building that is rigorously symmetrical. If not sensitively conceived and carefully executed, an expansion can compromise the integrity and compositional balance of the original. But such was the challenge faced by Tokyo-based Kengo Kuma for his first commission in the United States: a new wing for an almost templelike mid-century Modern house in New Canaan, Connecticut.
The house's original owner and designer was John Black Lee, an architect affiliated with the so-called Harvard Five ' a group of architects that included Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer who began settling in New Canaan starting around 1940, transforming the town into a hotbed of Modernism. Lee's axially symmetrical, one-story structure, completed in 1956 and published in RECORD as part of a collection of rectangular houses [November 1957, pages 152'156], featured a large open space, about 30 feet square, which contained a central fireplace, a living room, and a compact island kitchen. This main room had a perimeter clerestory and two all-glass exterior walls, on the north and south, providing views of the wooded 2-acre property. Bedrooms, two each on the east and west, flanked the main space, with a veranda and a generous overhanging roof surrounding the house on all four sides.