Rawlins *97 explores a forgotten beach-house architect

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Christopher Rawlins *97 (Photo: Megan Greenlee)

New book: Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, by Christopher Bascom Rawlins *97, foreword by Alastair Gordon (Metropolis Books/Gordon DeVries Studio)

 
The author: Rawlins is the principal of Rawlins Design, a New York-based architecture and interiors firm. His projects include beach houses and midcentury modernist restorations. He also has taught architectural design at Lehigh University.
 
The book: The author rented a beach house designed by Horace Gifford for himself and set out to find out about the career of an architect who had been largely forgotten. Fire Island Modernist examines Gifford, who died in 1992 of AIDS, and the houses he designed in the 1960s and 1970s on New York’s Fire Island, a narrow strip of land 31 miles long. Gifford “perfected a sustainable modernism in cedar and glass, as attuned to natural landscapes as our animal natures,” wrote Rawlins.
 

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From the book: “He resisted fences. He left doors off closets to limit the stockpiling of possessions. He discouraged washers and dryers. He urged clients to tote little baskets of toiletries to the bathroom. He loathed painted surfaces, clipped lawns, and all of the brute force involved in tending a typical suburban home. There was a conspicuous lack of accommodation for televisions. Bedrooms remained small to focus activity within the public spaces. Life in a Gifford home prescribed an artful form of camping.”
 
Review: “Both a cultural history and an architectural meditation, Fire Island Modernist captures the look, feel, and sensation of gay society in the 1960s and ’70s that flourished on the sandy shores and shifting dunes of the 31-mile-long barrier island of its title,” wrote Clifford A. Pearson for Architectural Record. Rawlins describes how “Gifford went from a Depression-era childhood in Vero Beach, Fla., to mastery of modern domestic architecture in the New York oceanside enclave that helped shape a slice of modern culture, particularly gay culture,” wrote Mike Singer of the American Institute of Architects.