Innovators come in two varieties: those who toil away unappreciated in their laboratories for years before unveiling their masterpiece, and those who surround themselves with the smartest people that they can find. Gordon Bruce's monograph of Eliot Noyes demonstrates the joy and prosperity that the latter approach can provide.
Eliot Noyes serves as a strong companion piece to Markus Rathgeb's monograph on Otl Aicher. Both men lived through similar eras, with their careers spanning from World War II through to the digital era. They shared similar passions in art and design. While each focused on corporate branding as much as they did on their design specialties, the two men led extraordinarily different lives.
Noyes had an enviable variety of experiences, exploring Persia as a young man, supporting the war effort, acting as curator for seminal MoMA design exhibits, completing a wide range of architectural projects and supervising branding efforts for global corporations. Throughout it all, he gathered other talented designers around him like orbiting planets. By bringing modernist architects to small communities, like New Canaan, Connecticut, he created lasting architectural legacies in some rather unlikely places.Even to this day, however, the fate of some of the houses built in New Canaan is being questioned, just as it was when they were first built. The list of architects and collaborators involved -- including Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Isamu Noguchi Alexander Calder and Noyes himself -- sounds like a primer on modernist design. Reading about the origins of New Canaan's modernist architecture provides a strong case for the importance of maintaining these groundbreaking homes.
As a historical document Eliot Noyes provides valuable insights, but as a story, Noyes's life lacked dramatic tension. A few events, such as the reaction of the New Canaan locals to the modernist homes supply resistance, but Gordon Bruce seems to present Noyes's life as one largely devoid of failure. As Leo Tolstoy explained at the beginning of Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy's observation encapsulates the problem inherent in this text, because Noyes's life seems too charmed to equal the excitement of a figure like Aicher's.
Unlike a novel, however, a life is not to be judged by its dramatic value. Noyes lived a rich and full existence, adhering to his own moral principles just as thoroughly as Aicher. Though the monograph does not make for a particularly riveting story, anyone would be satisfied to live a life that achieved the personal and social success that Noyes did. Further, by leveraging his rich social network into creative and architectural triumphs, Noyes not only left a tangible design legacy, but also provided a template for success in life in general.