Architect Malcolm Wells, often described as ahead of his time, began advocating environmentally sensitive building design in the mid-1960s, when green was still just a color. His pictures of green roofs with plants seemed ridiculous to some.
But a wave of new interest in Wells, who died aged 83 in 2009, suggests that time is beginning to catch up with his wisecracking ideas about the “gentle” architecture of “earth-sheltered” houses and partly underground commercial buildings – such as an underground shopping mall. . He envisioned Route 38 in Cherry Hill.
Or the subterranean Cherry Hill office he built for his architectural practice in 1972.
Photographs, illustrations and memorabilia from Wells’ pioneering career can be viewed at the Moorestown Historical Society, where Malcolm Wells: One Man’s Campaign to Save the Environment Through Architecture opened on September 29 and runs through May 14.
In July, a restoration project on the Wells-designed headquarters of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, was featured in an architectural publication.
The current Emerging Environment exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan includes drawings and photographs Welles made to illustrate “Nowhere to Go But Down,” a controversial essay outlining Wells’ new underground philosophy in the February 1965 issue of Progressive Architecture magazine.
“The MoMA exhibition is about how architecture responded to the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Matthew Wagstaff, a research assistant at the museum’s Emilio Ambasses Institute.
“Wells has been a major voice and a voice looking to the future. We’re happy to highlight it,” Wagstaff said. “And if there’s a rediscovery of it, we’re happy to help with that.”
Volunteer Trustees in Moorestown
The Moorestown exhibit displays some of the 40 buildings Wells built—many of which remain South Jersey landmarks—as well as drawings of those buildings that he imagined, or described in his elegant cursive handwriting. There are even exterior tiles from the RCA Pavilion he designed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, a project whose demolition sparked Wells’ shift toward more sustainable architecture.
There is a flag designed by Wells to mark National America’s Underground Day, a celebration he founded in 1974. It will be celebrated on May 14 next year.
During a tour of the Historical Society, curator Linda Veazey pointed out a 1953 photo of the Collingswood Church of Christ, which was his first commission.
“The story goes that Mac was getting a haircut and talking to a man who turned out to be the church’s pastor,” she said. “At the end of the conversation, the pastor said, ‘I want you to design my new church.’” The design went on to win an AIA (American Institute of Architects) award!
Vizi and society president Lenny Wagner, along with other volunteers, have collected anecdotes, photos and ephemera related to the Camden-born, Haddonfield-raised Wells.
Wells’ son, Sam, an architect in Massachusetts, and the archives at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania were also a source for this exhibition.
“My parents grew up in South Jersey and saw it being plowed for development,” said Sam Wells, the youngest son of Wells and his first wife, Shirley Holmes.
Wells served in the Marine Corps after graduating from Haddonfield High School and studied engineering at what is now Drexel University. He was deeply influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
A colorful and cultured man
Wells grew a beard and rode a bike to work long before such things were common. His satirical wit was evident in dozens of self-published books, with titles such as How to build an underground house And Antiquity of Sand – Architectural models you can build on the beach.
His other topics included the asphalt parking lot’s assault on the American landscape, birdhouse building, and baseball.
In the first phase of his 40-year career, Wells designed buildings for RCA. But the mid-century modern homes built by Wells on Cherry Hill’s upscale Hunt Tract area And in Moorestown he made him a celebrity.
“I see myself as a steward of this house, when it was sold as a demolition — but with a Viking collection,” said Martha Wright, who bought the Wells Moon Lane house in 2006.
Last year I released scenes from an independent short film, sugar, To be shot there. She also loaned materials to the Moorestown Gallery.
“Anything that helps keep Malcolm Wells’ legacy alive, I’m all for it,” Wright said.
Although he described himself as an atheist, Wells designed dramatic houses of worship, such as the First Methodist Church in Moorestown. He also built car dealerships. His Ford showroom in Riverside, Burlington County, had a 3D street scene.
“Mac was an artist and a friend,” said Paul Canton Sr., then owner of the agency. Wells also designed the Canton family’s home in Moorestown and their beach house in Marmora.
“He could go to a location, look at it, and paint a beautiful picture of a house that you had to love.” He said Canton, which is 100 years old.
Wells gave Dave Dibben his first job in the early 1970s.
“I was the luckiest young architect in the world,” Dibben said from San Rafael, Calif., where he practices as an architect.
“Mack was a very moral and humane person. He was also very shy,” he said. “But he felt so strongly about his ideas that he became an engaging lecturer on green buildings.”
Some Wells buildings have been modernized or expanded. The Wells-designed libraries in Cherry Hill and in Moorestown, where he also designed City Hall, were “also loved and hated,” Veazey said.
All three have been demolished.
“It’s been a battle to try to save Mac’s business.” said Dan Nichols, architect and member of the Cherry Hill Historical Commission.
“In Cherry Hill and much of New Jersey, the recent past is being bulldozed before it becomes past,” Nichols said. “But we have had successes, along with some losses, in the MAC buildings.”
Nichols credits Wells with teaching him to be an “architect with a conscience” and said the Moorestown exhibit exemplifies the strength of Wells’ commitments.
“For some practitioners, continuous “It means a lot of window dressing,” He said.
“For Wales, it was a really totalitarian movement, but it wasn’t It’s all about making buildings sustainable, but thinking about how to treat the land after construction.