The Rachel Raymond House was originally designed by pioneering female architect Eleanor Raymond in 1931 was re-visioned as the Mirror House by Pedro Joel Costa in Belmont, Massachusetts. The house was demolished by the Belmont Hill School and turned into a tennis court in 2006. The Rachel Raymond House was constructed in 1931 and the design was influenced by the Bauhaus “Masters Houses” in Dessau, Germany and the tenants of the International Style and keen to the sensitivity of the natural site and local materials. The Raymond House was seen as a signature work by one of the most prominent American female architects of the 20th century.
Architectural history is a capricious factor in the preservation of historic buildings, but rather in the field, the achievements of women are unfortunately often overlooked. Many significant architectural works have thereby been lost to the wrecking ball. Female architects were frequently downgraded to “domestic” architecture rather than prestigious large-scale projects. The association of residence with the realm of feminine dominance significantly added to this cultural prejudice. The low-slung status of residential architecture coupled with the challenges of getting proper recognition for female architects posed a unique difficulty in terms of significant architecture preservations.
The change occurred when residential architecture became the foundation of the American Modern Movement. Eleanor Raymond was one such female architect who made significant contributions in the architecture field including residential adaptive reuse, modern residential architecture, and technologically advanced architecture. Despite her projects being one of the earliest introductions of modern homes in New England, the projects were demolished without an ounce of effort to document the work. Ultimately, the responsibility for the loss of the house lies with the preservation community.
The invisible building was a vision behind Mirror house, a re-envision of the Rachel Raymond House, and an early work of Eleanor Raymond from the year 1931. MIRROR HOUSE was one of the works submitted at the AIA 2009 Committee on Design Ideas Competition (COD) by a Portuguese architect, Pedro Joel Costa. The idea came into place as a replacement of the recently demolished Rachel Raymond House by not exploiting the modernist legacy of the structure. His philosophy behind the idea was:
The Rachel Raymond House – “Listening to the Past, Looking to the Future: A House for Today.”
The proposed concept was born from the formal reverse of the original project by recovering its memorial importance. His modernist eye and image for the house converted into one of the most iconic embodiments of modern architecture. The large and modern spaces reflect contemporary housing and cultural needs which synchronize with the outside surroundings creating balance and harmony of natural lighting penetrating within the structure.
However, the mirrored exterior surface is the most striking feature of this classic piece of architecture. The mirrored façade reflects the bucolic landscape surrounding the house and camouflages the house simultaneously. The innovative design leaves us hopeful for the future of living spaces.
The main characteristic of this modern architecture is acquiring the power of invisibility. This feature is achieved by layering the exterior walls with large mirror panels. The volume is covered with mirror skin for it to disappear in its environment. These wall-sized panels create a harmonic rupture as they subtly blend into the landscape.
Mirror-façade in this modernist architectural building has an installation mechanism of a double-skin façade where the framework for the mirror is set up as an additional layering to the structural wall. The high reflection capacity of the cladding helps immerse in the uninterrupted view for an outside spectator.
The spacious interior spaces have an ample amount of natural light crossing through the skylight windows. Acoustic treatment is provided for the excessive heat produced due to the external material interaction with direct sunlight. Its simplistic spaces make it an ideal example of modern contemporary living. The role of glass in the spotlight and reflection as the major phenomenon is at play.
Modern materials are experimental and more sustainable, contemporary materials often adequately reflect the architect’s aesthetic choice. Daylight and natural ventilation help minimize energy use while providing a closer connection with the outdoors. The usage of sustainable, double-pane glass perfectly reduces the energy cost and mimics the aesthetics without the negative characteristics. The modern materials make the building more functional and sustainable as needed in the recent demand for sustainability in architecture.
The physical effort for making the building merge with its surroundings is a vision that doesn’t completely reflect the ideology behind the original Raymond work. It is ironic considering the house was meant to stand out as a movement for modern architecture uplifting the female architect’s work legacy but instead the re-vision hides it from being stood out. Mirror House isn’t a daring statement like the lost beauty but rather a contrast with the challenge of its futuristic lines.