Design duo

Pidcock Creek Road home of Antonin and Noémi Raymond Courtesy of the Architectural Archives

If you have space to add one more task to your to-do list over the next four days, make it this: Visit the exhibit now on at Meyerson Hall. Leave it till Monday and you’ll be too late. “Crafting a Modern World: The Architecture and Design of Antonin and Noémi Raymond” will have left Penn and be winging its way to other venues in California and Japan. Missing it would be a shame, since although there’s always something to see on walls around Penn, this exhibit tells a truly compelling story—about creativity, partnership and staying power—that you don’t have to be an architecture buff to appreciate. And there’s a local connection, too.

Antonin and Noémi Raymond’s story begins in 1914 on a ship headed for New York, where both were emigrating (from Czechoslovakia and France) at the onset of World War 1. Antonin was an architect and Noémi was a graphic designer, and for the next six decades the couple, who married the year they met, worked together designing buildings in (mostly) Japan and the U.S. Antonin was in charge of the exteriors—from a golf club in Tokyo to a farm in New Hope—while Noémi put her artistic skills to work furnishing the interiors.

An adventurous couple, the Raymonds first saw Japan in 1919 with Frank Lloyd Wright, who brought them there to help him design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Though the Raymonds soon split—none too amicably—with Wright, they stayed on in Japan, entranced with the simplicity and fine craftsmanship of Japanese design. While the Japanese aesthetic cast its spell on the Raymonds, they in turn had much to offer their adopted land, in terms of modern technology and materials. The results of this blended vision are arresting—spare, light-filled structures of glass and reinforced concrete precisely oriented in the landscape to capture views and welcome nature. When the Raymond’s house was destroyed in the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, the pair took the opportunity to build anew, creating an iconic homage to modernism, the Reinanzaka House.

The exhibit in Meyerson, put together by, among others, William Whitaker, curator of Penn’s Architectural Archives, gives visitors a tangible sense of what the Raymonds were aiming for in buildings like the Reinanzaka House. Photographs and a digital slide show of the living areas show the distinctly Wrightian role of the fireplace, which anchors the space and imbues a sense of hearth and home. Departing from his one-time mentor’s emphasis on horizontality, though, Raymond introduces a bold spiral staircase into the open living room. An architectural model of the house lets visitors peer in through the windows and appreciate the interplay of simple cubic forms in a way that photographs alone could never accomplish.

Also included in the exhibit are several vibrant, colorful examples of Noémi Raymond’s textile and furniture designs. Her rugs and carpets are particularly striking: Earthy hues splashed with accents of vivid red and aqua, abstract patterns brought to life with a scattering of gingko leaves.
When the impending Second World War forced the Raymonds to leave Japan, they made a home for themselves on Pidcock Creek Road, near New Hope, transforming a rundown old farmhouse with their signature walls of glass and open, light-filled interiors (above). The Raymonds and their protégés designed several homes in Bucks County and the couple also set up a business in New York City. Japan was never far from the couple’s thoughts, though, and once the war was over they returned, living there for most of the next two decades and working as vigorously as ever until old age and physical frailty forced their return to the New Hope farm now occupied by their son Claude and his family.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but go see the exhibit for the illustrated version. We think you’ll agree, these were two lives well lived, and well worth exploring.

“Crafting a Modern World: The Architecture and Design of Antonin and Noémi Raymond” remains on view at the Meyerson Galleries, 210 S. 34th Street, through Sept. 24, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Originally published on September 21, 2006.

Originally published on September 21, 2006