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Nicholas and Jane Monsarrat Houses

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1936, General Housing Corporation. 366 Newman Ave. (visible in winter)
  • Nicholas and Jane Monsarrat Houses

These twin houses for the Monsarrat family and their daughter are among the more ambitious Rhode Island ventures into the flat-roofed, corner-windowed, white-cement-surfaced modernism typical of the 1930s. Visible from the road or from a path along the shore only when the trees are bare, the complex consists of a pair of two-story core blocks set at right angles to one another, with hipped roofs now replacing the original flat ones. A one-story L-shaped block containing kitchens links the principal blocks as a larger L. At either end are additional one-story sunroom blocks with slabroofed entrance porches tucked beside them. Altogether they combine to make a zigzag cuboid composition of one- and two-story elements across the site.

General Housing Corporation devised one of the more advanced factory systems for housing before the flood of such proposals for the conversion of wartime industry to peacetime use after World War II. Tall, narrow, cement-surfaced panels were built on light metal framing with tongue-and-groove edges. Combinations of these units from a standardized palette—window, door, and blank—made exterior walls. In the process they created their own integral metal-framed support, which light metal girders completed as spanning members to sustain floors and ceilings. In contrast to the smooth, seamless coating of walls typical for most modernist architecture of the time, here the vertical joints of the paneling are left exposed, although the original surfaces of the panels have been covered with compositional shingling. Time and care have not been kind to these houses. Still, they remain substantially intact, as dim, stained reminders of a literal Machine Age vision of the house of the future, a concept often better captured in spirit by more metaphorical approaches.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Nicholas and Jane Monsarrat Houses", [East Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-EP7.

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