Raymond, Eleanor (1887–1989)
Raymond, Eleanor (1887–1989)
American architect. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1887; died in 1989; graduated from Wellesley College, 1909; master's degree in architecture from the Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, 1919; never married; longtime companion of Ethel Power (an architectural journalist and writer).
A residential architect in the Boston area for over half a century, Eleanor Raymond designed and built her first house in 1919. Her interest was drawn to architecture by a landscaping course she took at Wellesley College, and was further piqued after her 1909 graduation when she was much taken with buildings she saw while traveling in Europe. She later described herself at that time, in the words of Doris Cole , as "an independent young woman, with a preference for individual creative work rather than supervision of others, a growing interest in gardens and buildings, and little desire for marriage and family."
After returning to Boston from Europe, Raymond started out by studying with landscaper Fletcher Steele. Most of his other students were proper young Boston women uninterested in careers, however, and she found these classes unchallenging. Instead, she began working for free in Steele's office, learning by observing, and the experience spurred her to enroll in 1917 in the small Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture for women. Landscape architecture was strongly linked to horticulture in the early 20th century, and since she was no horticulturist, she turned more to architecture. Nonetheless, landscape remained a focal point throughout her career, for she gave careful consideration to environment and to meshing her buildings with their surroundings. Raymond graduated with a master's degree in architecture in 1919, and that year both opened an office with Henry Atherton Frost and received her first commission.
While her training had been in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, which made heavy use of such decorative elements as columns and cornices, Raymond was intrigued by the plain style of old American houses, and she became known for the graceful simplicity of her designs. In 1928, she ended her partnership with Frost and opened a solo office in Boston. Raymond worked exclusively on homes, a professional choice dictated both by the limited commercial contracts available to female architects at the time and her own delight in the possibilities afforded by residential design. Her entire philosophy on historic and contemporary architecture is outlined in her book Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania (1931, reprinted 1973), a detailed study of the style of early American architecture and what she called its "unstudied directness in fitting form to function." This was an apt description of her own work, although she also experimented with materials; among her buildings were a Plywood House (1940) and a Masonite House (1944), both created for Boston sculptor Amelia Peabody (1890–1984). In 1948, Raymond designed and built a Sun House in Dover, Massachusetts, for Peabody. Created in conjunction with chemist and solar engineer Maria Telkes , who designed its solar heating system, the Sun House was the first solar-powered house to be built for occupation in America. (It is still lived in today.)
Raymond worked principally in Massachusetts, and a number of her clients were women whom she knew in Boston and Cambridge, many of them involved in the arts. She lived for some 50 years with architectural journalist and writer Ethel Power (who was also an editor of House Beautiful), and Power's diary, which she kept for nearly 40 years, contains much information on their lives as well as on Raymond's day-to-day work and design principles. Important among these was her belief that the home should accommodate the client, and so her style evolved to keep pace with the changes that occurred over the decades in the ways Americans lived. Raymond was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1961, and she continued working through the 1970s, utilizing new technologies and building materials but always focusing not on those elements but on the "three fields" of a home, meaning the exterior, the interior, and the landscape. In the words of one client, she was "an architect who combine[d] a respect for tradition with a disrespect for its limitations." She died in 1989.
Cole, Doris. "Eleanor Raymond," in Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective. Edited by Susan Torre. NY: Whitney Library of Design, 1977.
The Eleanor Raymond Collection, which includes documentation of nearly 300 architectural projects, personal papers and photographs, memorabilia, and Ethel Power's diary (1930–68), is in the Special Collections at the Frances Loeb Library of Harvard University.
Jacqueline Mitchell , freelance writer, Detroit, Michigan