On show now at the Center for Architecture (CFA) in New York is an exhibition on the late architect Gregory Ain. Titled This Future Has a Past, the show looks at Ain’s life while focusing on his Exhibition House for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Garden, a project that mysteriously disappeared.

Guiding audiences through Ain’s personal life, This Future Has a Past attempts to shed light on the house’s curious history. Ain practiced mostly around Los Angeles and his style comes under the umbrella of midcentury modernism. He even taught the likes of Frank Gehry. However, as Phillip Denny points out in his New York Times article, not much else is known about the architect, especially by those outside L.A.

(Erik Bardin)

Unless you are the F.B.I., that is. Ain, who died in 1988 at the age of 80, was a Leftist and his political stance meant he was under scrutiny during the Red Scare. This happened after a housing complex (which never came to fruition) appeared on the F.B.I.’s radar; it was rumored the scheme was connected to the Communist Party. In 1950, Philip Johnson, who the F.B.I. was also monitoring due to his supposed connections to the Nazi Party, commissioned Ain to design a house for the MoMA to stand as an exhibit in its garden.

The F.B.I. files on Gregory Ain. (Erik Bardin)

The house was the second of its kind. Marcel Breuer, also commissioned by Johnson, had controversially supplied the previous MoMA Garden house in 1949. Mysteriously, however, Ain’s house appears to have gone missing, with little clues as to its whereabouts. Breuer’s house and the house that came after it, the Japanese House by Junzo Yoshimura, meanwhile, still survive having been relocated elsewhere.



Philip Johnson, left, and Gregory Ain, right, in the living room of the Exhibition House. Publicity photograph released in connection with the exhibition, Exhibition House by Gregory Ain. (Homer Page/The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York)

Christiane Robbins, founding principal at Metropolitan Architectural Practice (MAP) and professor of architecture at California College of the Arts, created the CFA exhibition with Katherine Lambert, who is principal and director of special projects at MAP. The pair’s interest was piqued when the photographer Julius Schulman mentioned Ain’s mysterious past. “He said there was a story there that wasn’t getting told,” Lambert told the New York Times. “But he wouldn’t tell us what it was.”

(Courtesy Center for Architecture)

The exhibition at the CFA includes a model of Ain’s MoMA house. The model had turned up at architect Theodore “The Dean of Models” Conrad’s house in New Jersey. In addition to this, F.B.I. files procured by Robbins after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request are also on display. The files disclose oddly specific details on Ain, such as his weight and also his alias, Fred Grant.

Despite the unearthed files, Ain’s house is yet to be found. “To put all of that money into the exhibition house only to demolish it doesn’t make sense,” said Robbins.

This Future Has a Past is presented in cooperation with Anyspace. The exhibition was initially intended for the 15th International Venice Biennale of Architecture but is on show at the CFA until September 12, 2017. A special talk, “Who was Gregory Ain?” is planned for September 7. More details on that can be found here.

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