Eliot Noyes

Eliot Fette Noyes was born in Boston in 1910. After attending Andover Academy and Harvard University, Noyes matriculated in 1932 at Harvard University's Faculty of Architecture, a graduate program founded in 1914. At the time, Harvard's architecture program trained students in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts tradition. Noyes had been exposed to European design movements percolating in the 1920s, in particular, the Bauhaus movement in Germany, and found the Beaux-Arts training at Harvard to be limiting.

In 1935, Noyes left Harvard to work as a draughtsman on an archaeological team from the University of Chicago that was traveling to excavate Persepolis, an ancient city in modern-day Iran. Noyes returned to Harvard in 1937. The school had changed in his absence. In 1936, the Faculty of Architecture, the Landscape Architecture department, and the Urban Design Department were united to form the Graduate School of Design under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (1883-1969). Traditional Beaux-Arts training was abandoned in favor of a Modern design education.

Noyes graduated in 1938 and began work as a draughtsman for Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch & Abbott in Boston, Massachusetts. The firm, however, turned out to be more traditional in their design than he had hoped, so he left in November of that year to become a draughtsman for Breuer and Gropius. He had been the recipient of the Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship awarded to a promising architecture graduate at Harvard; on the recommendations of Breuer and Gropius, he took a leave of absence from the firm to travel across the country to study prominent examples of contemporary architecture. After visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (Bear Run, Pennsylvania) and Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin), Eliel Saarinen's Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan), and a few of Richard Neutra's houses in California, Noyes briefly returned to work with Gropius and Breuer.

In 1940, Gropius recommended Noyes for the position of the first director of the new Industrial Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Noyes accepted the job. While working at MoMA, Noyes befriended the furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames and pushed their work into the artistic limelight. In 1946, he left MoMA to become the design director at the firm of Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958). Bel Geddes was an industrial designer known for his work on cars, planes, trains, and boats. At Bel Geddes's office, Noyes was selected to design a typewriter for one of the firm's corporate clients, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). When Bel Geddes's firm folded in 1947, Noyes was awarded the IBM account on his own. He developed IBM's Model A electric typewriter, introduced in 1948. While working on the IBM design, Noyes collaborated with Breuer on several architectural designs. Their most famous design was the Kniffen House (1949, no longer extant) in New Canaan, Connecticut. Concurrently, Noyes also served a three-year tenure as Associate Professor of Architectural Design at Yale University.

For IBM, Mobil, Westinghouse, and other corporations, Noyes designed products, offices and, of equal importance, recommended his design peers to these industries for projects in many parts of the world, in a sense becoming a patron of Modern architecture. According to the Encyclopedia of Architects, Noyes was a "leading advocate of the integration of product, architectural, display and graphic design in one business and industry." He is recognized for his design of the World's Fair pavilions for IBM at Brussels, Belgium, and San Antonio, Texas; the Westinghouse Pavilion at the New York World's Fair; and the United Nations Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal, Canada. His best-known structures include the Bubble Houses in Hobe Sound, Florida; the iconic round gas pumps and round roofs that distinguish Mobil gas stations across the country; the IBM Education Center in Armonk, New York; and his own house in New Canaan (Noyes House 2, 1954-55).

Eliot Noyes died in 1977.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.