JULY 17, 2010
Reported by Pauline Nee, ULI New York Young Leaders Group
On July 17, members of the ULI New York Young Leaders Group travelled to New Canaan, Connecticut to visit the Philip Johnson Glass House. Built between 1948 and 1949, the Glass House has served as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement, a private residence and a gathering spot for the country’s artistic and cultural cognoscenti.
Essentially a glass box, the simplified steel-frame structure removes visual barriers between the interior and the exterior of the house. Landscape and living space overlap at every angle. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, to whom Johnson willed the estate upon his death, has maintained the property exactly as it was during Johnson’s life. Iconic Barcelona chairs, designed by Modern architecture pioneer Mies van der Rohe, still occupy the main living area adjacent to a Nicolas Poussin painting and an Elie Nadelman sculpture. The interior of the house is laid out along an open plan, including Johnson’s bedroom which is divided from the rest of the space by only a long storage unit. The bathroom, mercifully, has traditional walls, but even it is tucked away behind a brick fireplace so as not to interrupt the almost-panoramic views.
Across from the Glass House sits the Brick House, containing the guest quarters. Johnson intended the two contrasting buildings to be viewed as one architectural composition. The Brick House has only three small windows in the back, shunning the scenery that the Glass House observes obsessively.
After the completion of the Glass House and the Brick House, Johnson continued to enlarge the estate. He added a Painting Gallery, an innovative viewing room which is seemingly buried under a large mound of earth, and a Sculpture Gallery that reads like a maze of inter-connected open spaces. At the time of Johnson’s death in 2005, there were 14 structures on 47 acres, including a pool, Lake Pavilion, Library, Entrance Gate, Ghost House, and a would-be visitor center named Da Monsta. Under the stewardship of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Glass House grounds have continued to expand as additional land is purchased to protect the views that Johnson adored.