October 29, 2009 Charles Goodman

The Legacy of Charles Goodman

Charles Goodman

What would Charles Goodman be thinking about the resurgence in interest of his mostly modest mid-century homes? Would he see it as a reaction against the McMansionization of the past few years, with people wanting to live in a modern-style house rather than faux example from our colonial past? Or would he see it as something else?

Goodman died 17 years ago today at age 85 from emphysema. Here’s an excerpt from a piece by Benjamin Forgey, the former Washington Post architecture critic, who wrote this soon after Goodman’s death:

"When Virginia architect Charles Goodman died last month at 85 his legacy to the Washington area included more than the several thousand residential units he designed in the region — he left as well an optimistic vision of the possibilities of community life in an individualistic society.

Goodman was an architect of talent and probity. His houses, even for wealthier clients, were no-nonsense — he welcomed the opportunities money provided to use better woods or stones, perhaps, but for rich and middle-income client alike he designed houses that were sensible, economical and inventive. He would give you a hallway with a view of just that particular tree, or a porch that hovered just so in a glade, or a kitchen window perfectly sited to catch the winter sun. The Hollin Hills development (done with Robert Davenport, an adventurous builder) in the woods south of Alexandria is justly renowned for the way in which the small houses (expandable all) were placed for privacy but with plenty of room left over for public enjoyment. When the last house was done (some 450 in all), the woods remained. …

A forceful personality, he was relatively successful even in the design and production of industrially fabricated housing, a field in which many of his generation stubbed their professional toes, or worse. More than 100,000 houses he designed for the National Homes Corp. of Indiana were constructed nationwide. Locally, his interest in contemporary materials, as well as his innovative skills as a community planner, are evident in the vaulted and aluminum-decorated town houses of River Park, perhaps the most distinctive neighborhood in the city’s Southwest urban renewal area.

Goodman’s monuments, then, are mostly little houses. That says a lot about the man and his vision.”