The Art & Architecture of Graham Gund -Fall 2014

by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Terry Pommett

Take a walk on Tupancy Links, that rolling parcel of conservation land nestled between Cliff Road and the bluff overlooking Nantucket Sound, and what appears to be a family compound rises off to the west.

It is the home of Cambridge-based architect Graham Gund and his wife Ann, and after 20 years it has weathered nicely into the landscape. While it was built by island contractor Kevin Kalman in its entirety way back when, the house has the appearance of a home that was added onto in stages. That was the effect Gund was going for when he designed it, that of a family compound that has evolved over time.

Drive up to the home along a winding, rutted track off Washing Pond Road, where the scent of bayberry, rosa rugosa and wild blueberries are carried on a soft summer breeze, and nature surrounds you. Pulling in to the circular Belgian-block drive, which accesses a garage, guest house and main house, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly notable about the location. But that’s the point. Dunes and buildings hide the real prize, so when you walk through the archway leading to the courtyard you are instantly struck by the spectacular view of the deep blue waters of Nantucket Sound, which seem to encompass everything and define where you are in the world. And that was the architect’s plan all along.

Gund, president of Gund Partnership, is a renowned architect with an impressive body of work over a 40-year career. His firm has been bestowed with more than 100 awards for design excellence, and he has received wide critical acclaim for his work. The Gund Partnership has designed over 100 buildings for colleges, universities and public and private schools across the country as well as performing-arts centers and private residences.

His work has been described as “celebrations of inventiveness” and “joyful.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger cited Gund’s designs as “assertions of the view that a work of architecture is an element in a larger entity, part both of the literal community of buildings that are its physical neighbors, and of the conceptual community of buildings that are its architectural peers.”

That philosophy may explain why he has so much enjoyed the work his firm has done on college campuses. “A campus is an idealized community, so it’s very exciting and everything you do alters what’s around it. You are creating new adjacencies and creating and altering history,” Gund explained.

At Kenyon College, his alma mater, Gund designed a new athletic center, a music building and a grouping of science buildings, the latter which became known as the science quadrangle, consisting of two new buildings and one renovated building. Closer to home, his firm designed the Grousbeck Center for Students and Technology at the Perkins School for the Blind. Newton North High School, which opened in 2009, is another Gund project that gained attention for its novel design.

While each and every one of these buildings is very different, there is a common thread in the design process. The premise for Gund is always to create transformative environments that educate, inspire and delight, and he has certainly done that with his own Nantucket home.

After purchasing the seven-acre parcel on Nantucket, Gund spent time on the property mapping out the views from all vantage points. Situated 50 feet above sea level facing out over Nantucket Sound, there was the opportunity to capture the serenity of the sea and sky as well as rolling grasslands and the distant horizon of town, and bring them inside.

As a result, the rooms are set at various angles on the landscape to maximize nature’s brilliance. In fact, the way the house is sited, one feels as if they are on a peninsula, jutting out into the sea.

“The whole house was designed to be one room wide, so there are windows on three sides to capture the views,” Gund said, gesturing to vistas of town with the steeple of the North Church and South Church clock tower to the east and the blue waters of Nantucket Sound to the north.

With a lot of houses, you are either outside or inside. In the Gund home, large windows and careful attention to siting bring the outside in.

“You’re almost in nature,” Gund said.

And that’s the point of this house. It’s all about contextualism.

“I like to capture the spirit of a place, and take what’s best from the surroundings and incorporate it into the architecture,” he added.

Courtyards are integrated into a number of Gund’s designs. Whether he’s designing a school complex or building a residence, the concept is scalable. Both Gund’s Nantucket home and Lowell Street residence in Cambridge are laid out around a modified courtyard, where three sides of a lawn are surrounded by the home. Again, this element brings natural light into the structure.

The play of sunlight on the walls and how it changes the character of a room as the sun transits the sky are an important element that Gund considers in his designs.

“I like the way light travels around a house, and the experience one gets as the sun moves around throughout the day,” he said.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of this concept actualized is in Gund’s island home in the late afternoon. From golden hour until dusk, the movement of light throughout the rooms changes as the sun transits the sky until it ultimately dips below the horizon. Sunsets are spectacular.

“The way the house is designed, you get the sunset in every room in the house,” Gund said.

This Nantucket home was clearly designed to maximize the impact of the natural beauty, whether one is outside the home or inside.

“To me, it feels like the juxtaposition of the rational of the architecture with the irrational of nature,” said Gund, explaining that by superimposing a structure on a natural landscape, a tension is created.

Another important element in the Gund home is the art, in various forms, on the walls, tabletops, suspended from the ceiling or perched on the roof. A collection of birds on the ridgeline lends a Hitchcockian air to the weathered exterior.

Gund is recognized as a serious collector of contemporary art, with an impressive museum-quality collection in his home in Cambridge, with pieces on Nantucket as well. He is an honorary trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he and his wife Ann have funded the directorship and built a wing for the museum. He is also a past trustee of the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, and has written and published extensively on architecture and the arts. Gund became interested in art when he was a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“During my late 20s I went to New York a lot and would go to 50 galleries over a weekend, seeing as much art as I could see. It helped train my eye to what I liked and what I didn’t like,” he said. “I always thought I came to art through architecture. Architecture creates a sense of mood. Art does too.”

There are focal points of interest throughout his homes, through architecture and art. You won’t see any paintings of pleasing landscapes, rose-covered cottages or sailboats with puffy clouds in the distance – though there is a very large model of a sailboat suspended from the ceiling. The art in the house is carefully chosen to reflect the cosmopolitan taste of both the Gunds, as preeminent collectors of contemporary art.

It is a home that clearly reflects their tastes and their place in the world of design and the arts, with Nantucket as the glorious backdrop to it all. ///

Marianne Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror.

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.