Look Up! Chestnut Hill’s Modernist Gems

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

The character of Chestnut Hill is usually defined by its 19th-century estates, Italianate villas, elegant cricket club, and charming row homes originally built for the serving class. But the beautiful topography of the area has long appealed to great architects, from the arrival of the railroad in the 1800s through the car culture of the 20th century. Among the old growth and green spaces of Chestnut Hill are amazing examples of Modernist houses, designed by internationally renowned Philadelphia architects.

Louis I. Kahn built the Margaret Esherick House, 204 Sunrise Lane, in 1960 for the niece of artist Wharton Esherick, who designed the kitchen. Constructed of concrete and Apitong wood, the house is one of only a few Kahn home designs that were actually built. It is praised as a masterful blend of natural light and geometry, clarity and tranquility.

A short jog around Pastorius Park is the Vanna Venturi House, 8330 Millman St., designed in 1962 by Robert Venturi for his mother. The stucco façade of the front exterior has a strong symmetry, broken by the shape and placement of the windows. Down the road, at 8220 Millman, is the Charles Woodward House, designed in 1939 by Kenneth Day in the International Style.

On nearby Glen Gary Drive is the Dorothy Shipley White House, built in 1963 by Mitchell/Giurgola Associates. An artist, writer and collector, White commissioned a home that would provide the right light for her studio and collections and privacy for her work. Streetside landscaping provides privacy, while the high windows allow cascades of light into the home.

Other Modernist gems are scattered throughout Chestnut Hill, reflecting the influence of Bauhaus and other movements that best exemplify great 20th century design.

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The front of the Margaret Esherick House allows light through two T-shaped windows.

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The rear of the Esherick House uses floor-to-ceiling windows for views of the adjacent park.

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Even the carport has a Zen tranquility.

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The firm of Venturi and Rauch designed this simple but expressive facade for the home of Venturi’s mother.

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The Dorothy Shipley White House, 717 Glen Gary Drive, is well hidden from the street, but high windows bring in the light.

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The Woodward House recalls pre-Modern designer Josef Hoffman.

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A mid-century Glen Gary Drive house recalls the style of Louis Kahn.

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