DOYLESTOWN, PA.- One of Heritage Conservancy's recent projects was the completion a successful National Register of Historic Places nomination for a 20th century building complex—the Solebury Township property of the architect and acclaimed Modern furniture designer and woodworker, George Nakashima, who has been designated a "Living Treasure" by the American Craft Council. Mr. Nakashima, along with his family, and fellow woodworkers created exquisite furniture from richly grained hardwoods.
George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1905 and grew up in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. He received a Bachelor's Degree in architecture at the University of Washington and a Master's from MIT in 1930.
After WWII, Mr. Nakashima moved to Bucks County and eventually purchased a parcel of land on Aquetong Road where he designed and built his workshop and house. Known as "The Elder Statesman of the American Craft Movement" he received many awards from the AIA and other prestigious institutions. Mr. Nakashima, whose creativity in woodworking was guided by his belief that "a tree is our most intimate contact with nature," designed and crafted furniture from 1940 until his death in 1990.
The quiet hillside compound, comprised of 19 buildings, was constructed from 1946 to 1991. Of the 19 buildings, 17 are considered contributing resources to the National Register listing and are used for a variety of purposes including residences, education, production, storage and administration related to the work of Nakashima. All were designed, built and landscaped by the master craftsman. The George Nakashima House, Studio and Workshop were nominated for the National Register under Criterion B for their association with the famous craftsman and under Criterion C for significance of architecture for the International Style buildings designed, engineered and built by Nakashima. The complex was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service on August 14, 2008.
The buildings and structures generally reflect the International Style with traditional Japanese influences. Nakashima also employed some unusual engineering systems for the roofs of some of the structures including a conoid shell roof, a hyperbolic paraboloid, and a scissors truss. The Showroom was built in 1954, the Conoid Studio in 1957, the Minguren Museum in 1965, and the Reception House in 1976. The Conoid Studio roof was an experimental reinforced concrete shell, the Minguren Museum roof is a plywood hyperbolic paraboloid shell. There are two other conoid shells and two hyperbolic paraboloid shells elsewhere on the property, illustrating his skill and fascination with thin-shell construction.
Nestled among the beautiful 18th and 19th century stone homes along Aquetong Road, the complex structures exhibit a distinct contrast to the surrounding Bucks County architecture. According to Jeff Marshall, Heritage Conservancy's Vice President of Resource Protection, "Most people in the Mid-Atlantic region probably think a house has to be 200 years old or George Washington has to have slept in it to be considered truly historic. History doesn't stop. The National Register of Historic Places recognizes historic resources associated with important events and people. Bucks County's twentieth century history includes the fact that the region attracted and nurtured artists, artisans, authors and actors. The significance of people such as Oscar Hammerstein and George Nakashima were so profound on a national level that buildings associated with them have been deemed worthy of preservation so their story can continue to be told for generations to come."
Today visitors are invited to tour the workshops and studio or even set up a design appointment to own a one-of-a-kind piece. The property continues to be operated by his daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, in the production of furniture based on her father's archive of designs and her original work. Mira said, "Having the Nakashima compound listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a tribute to the legacy of our father's furniture and the buildings he designed." Her brother Kevin added, "This is a true honor to the memory of both our parents." For more information about the studio visit www.nakashimawoodoworker.com.
Heritage Conservancy has assisted numerous owners and municipalities with National Register applications throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Anyone interested in assistance with listing a property on the National Register of Historic Places should contact Heritage Conservancy at 215-345-7020, ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.