Architectural history

The architects of Carderock Springs & the pillars of modernism

With our rich architectural heritage, it is critical that the Carderock community and its various committees—such as Architectural Review Committee (ARC), the Tree Committee, and Carderock Springs Rainscape Neighborhood Program -- preserve the peaceful treasure we have.

It is illuminating to think that through the education and design training of our architects -- the Washington firm of Keyes, Lethbridge, and Condon -- our houses are just one, two, or maybe three degrees of separation from those designed by the pillars of modernism.

Mid-Century Modern before it was even a thing

The developer Edmund Bennett is certainly a well know name in Carderock Springs. He developed our community of Mid-Century Modern (MCM) homes back in the early 1960s. The term MCM wasn’t even invented until 1984!

In fact, in the original brochure advertising Carderock Springs, the word "modern" or "modernism" cannot be found. Words like unique, siting, design, research findings, budget, cathedral ceilings, chrome features, indoor/outdoor, skylights, low wide overhangs, and latest materials described the models for sale.

However, there are other names that we should add to our conversations about Carderock.

Our architects: Keyes, Lethbridge, and Condon 

Keyes, Lethbridge, and Condon (KLC) was the go-to architectural firm for the developer Bennett. It was one of the most formative and influential in the Capital region in the 1960s.  They won 25% of the awards given by the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Their partnership was a blend of many complementary talents and became a training ground for local modernists, including Hugh Newell Jacobsen. According to architecture critic Ben Forgey of the Washington Post, “the partners disdained what they viewed as historical affectation and rejected many a commission where it was called for. They discovered a market niche and thought it was a wave of the future.”

Keys added, “Actually we didn’t have much competition in terms of modern architecture.”

Arthur Keyes: Studied with giants of modern architecture  

Arthur Keyes was the principal partner in KLC. He pursued architecture as an undergraduate at Princeton, where Beaux-Arts classicism dominated. He then joined the Frank Lloyd Wright group in Taliesin.

Finding that too much of a cult, he went to Harvard School of Design in 1939 to study with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, both of Bauhaus fame and immigrants from Nazi Germany.

Given these two international icons of design, Keyes was still able to carve out his own modernistic style. He wrote, “Gropius would say, ‘start from scratch, start with a white box, and then try to think out something logical and do it differently.‘ That was a surprise.”

While at Harvard, Keyes designed a Frank Lloyd Wright style house in contrast to the predominant International Style of his professors.

Then he worked for the US Navy in Washington DC and was part of the design team for the WWII amphibious assault vehicle.

Francis Lethbridge: Dean of local architecture

Francis Lethbridge was considered the dean of local architecture, able to blend his modernistic tendencies with historic preservation. He did not consider this contradictory or regressive.

He was a graduate of the Yale school of Architecture. Like Keyes,the Navy brought him to this area.

David Condon: Focus on environmental design

David Condon, the third partner, joined the firm in 1958. He got his degree in architecture from UC Berkeley, where the emphasis was on environmental design.

Condon then worked for Charles Goodman for four years as his lead designer before joining KLC.

Charles Goodman had designed other MCM communities such as Hollin Hills and Hammond Wood about 10-15 years before Carderock. Goodman graduated from the Armour Institute of Technology, now called the Illinois Institute of Technology, just before Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe (Bauhaus) joined the faculty.

Goodman, like Keyes, merged Frank Lloyd Wright concepts with those of modernism—sometimes called soft modern.