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Monday, September 30, 2013

Eliot Noyes

Eliot Noyes (1910-1977) was born in Boston and attended Andover Academy and received a degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1932. He had knowledge of the Bauhaus movement in Germany and was dissatisfied with the Beaux-Arts training he received at Harvard.

In 1935 he joined an archaeological team from the University of Chicago that was excavating in what is modern-day Iran. He returned to Harvard in 1937 to an architecture department that had been completely reorganized under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

After graduating in 1938, Noyes went to work for Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch and Abbot in Boston, but the firm proved too traditional in its approach for his liking, so he left to take a job as a draftsman for Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. At their urging, he took the opportunity, as a recipient of the Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship awarded to promising architecture graduates, to make his way around the country studying contemporary architecture. He saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Taliesin, Eliel Saarinen's Cranbrook Academy and several of Richard Neutra's houses in California before returning to work for Breuer and Gropius.

In 1940 Gropius recommended Noyes for the position as first director of the new Industrial Design Department at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). While there he became friends with Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen and helped promote their work.

In 1946 he left MoMA to become design director at the firm of Norman Bel Geddes, an industrial engineer known for his work on cars, planes, trains and boats. Noyes was chosen to design a typewriter for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Two years later, Bel Geddes's firm went out of business, and Noyes kept the IBM account himself, designing the Selectric typewriter in 1961 . During this time he also collaborated with Breuer on a few architectural projects, as well as teaching at Yale University.

Besides IBM, some of Noyes's main clients were Mobil and Westinghouse, for whom he designed products and buildings. He is known as a pioneer in integrating product, architecture, display and graphic design in the corporate world, often hiring other architects, industrial designers and graphic artists to complete parts of an overall project for which he had been hired.

Some of his best known designs are World's Fair Pavilions for IBM in 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. He designed the Bubble Houses in Hobe Sound, Florida and the iconic round roofs of Mobil gas stations. He also designed the IBM Education Center in Armonk, New York, and his own house in, as well as one very similar to it, in New Canaan, Connecticut.

From and

Bremer House - New Canaan, Connecticut

Bubble House - Hobe Sound, Florida

Chivvis House - New Canaan, Connecticut (based on his own house)

IBM Pavilion - Expo '58/Brussels World's Fair

Proposed Westinghouse Pavilion for 1964 New York World's Fair

Actual Westinghouse Pavilion - 1964 New York World's Fair

IBM Pavilion - HemisFair '68/San Antonio World's Fair

Round pumps and roofs of Mobil gas stations in the 1960s

IBM Selectric typewriter

IBM Selectric type elements (often called "type balls")


  1. Great research. I was a child in the 70s but I remember seeing those Mobil gas stations. Thanks for bringing back the memory.

    1. Those Mobil stations looked so modern back then, like something straight out of a science fiction novel.

  2. I love the houses in the first and third picture! The Mobile gas station looks so adorable, there's really something about those old gas stations! the typewriter with balls (ahem, sorry, couldn't help it:-) looks very handsome too!

    1. I love those houses too. The bubble house is another matter. I suppose back then the necessary technology didn't exist for making a perfectly smooth dome, but it looks pretty primitive. Those Mobil stations were so cool when they were first built, and I still remember that I was in heaven when I got a red Selectric typewriter.

  3. Ahh, the Selectric designer, good choice! I have two of those bubble-shaped Selectrics :D

    1. My red Selectric is long gone. Wish I knew then what I know now about my renewed fascination with 20th century typewriters.