George Nakashima House, Studio, and Workshop

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, United States

Combining international styles and modern influences with Japanese craft traditions, George Nakashima's work was a significant force in the American craft movement of the mid-twentieth century. His Arts Building, Cloister, Pool House, and Reception House were built between 1960 and 1975 in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and demonstrate the skill, ingenuity, and artful genius of this master craftsman, furniture designer, and architect. The Arts Building was constructed as an art gallery and museum, and now displays George Nakashima artifacts. The Pool House, with a unique vaulted shape and cantilevered platform pool, was constructed of plywood and crowned with copper pipes for solar water heating. The Cloister, connected to the Arts Building, has a plywood shed roof covered with asphalt—both experimental materials at the time. Its walls are made of unadorned, but carefully laid up concrete block. The Reception House served as a guesthouse, and its interior is constructed using more luxurious materials, including handmade rice paper screens, exposed wood beam ceilings, Japanese plaster walls, and traditional tatami. Featuring a tea room and Japanese-style sunken bath, it is still used for guests and meetings.

2014 World Monuments Watch

While still intact, the historic architecture faces several challenges for preservation and maintenance. The site is in need of an integrated conservation management plan, which would include the training of craftsmen in the original techniques and use of materials that maintain the integrity of George Nakashima's vision. The site was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, and World Monuments Fund is now working with the Nakashima Foundation for Peace to create a sustainable plan in accordance with the original intent of George Nakashima. The plan will focus on the preservation of “craft” by educating and training young people interested in preservation trades to ensure that these skills will be sustained in the future. During 2015 the buildings will undergo a buildings assessment, beginning with the Arts Building and the Pool House. Following this assessment, a prioritized program of work will be undertaken in 2015–2016 by a team of trainees under the supervision of a master craftsman.

Mid-century modernism is frequently underappreciated by the American public and is quickly disappearing. Craftsmen trained in the preservation trades are in short supply, with few training programs in place to advance the culture. This project addresses both of these challenges to the preservation of modern heritage. It increases the visibility of this unique complex of modernist buildings, in which novel engineering construction methods, materials, and shapes—such as thin-shell concrete, plywood, and hyperbolic paraboloid roofs—are combined with traditional Japanese woodworking techniques. By creating a training program for craftsmen to undertake the ongoing repair and maintenance of the buildings, it increases knowledge and builds the capacity of the preservation trades. This modern treasure has the potential to serve as an important educational resource for its local community, as well as architects, designers, and craftsmen of all trades.

Last updated: June 2019.

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