LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Philip Johnson's Glass House


Sixty years after its completion, Glass House, Philip Johnson's most iconic structure and former residence, still stands as a model of modernist living.

In 2007, Philip Johnson's famous Glass House and private estate in Canaan, Connecticut, opened to the public for the first time since its completion in 1949 and has been attracting the world’s architectural and design aficionados ever since. This private mecca of modernism served for more than half a century as a privileged oasis for the minimalist maestro, his partner David Whitney and his inner circle of friends. Though it was extensively studied and photographed, it remained unseen by the public eye until just a few years ago. However, demand to take a peek beyond the panes of the architect’s 47-acre architectural playground – donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by Philip Johnson in 1986 – is high. Summer tours are already sold out, but a $100 to the Glass House’s Modern Friends donor program not only helps maintain the legacy of this modern landmark, it also buys you entry.

Comprising fourteen structures, eleven of which were designed by Johnson, the estate's crowning jewel is the famous Glass House, Johnson’s private residence until his death in 2005 at the age of 98. Conceived as a "viewing platform" to observe the lush surrounding landscape, its transparent design is an innovative interplay of glass sheets lifted by central black steel pillars. Pushing the credo of minimalism to its most elegant extreme, the structure’s lack of interior walls erases the frontier between inside and out. Wall-to-ceiling glass windows provide a 360-degree view on nature — from the adjacent trees, pruned to cast particular light patterns, across to the woods and down to the pond below. Inside, bare and minimalist furniture — originals designed by Johnson’s friend and mentor Mies van der Rohe — provide clean canvases for the artful, inspiring play on light and shadow.

Devoid of the restraints of time, budget and customers’ tastes, the Glass House and its surrounding estate present the purest reflection of Johnson’s modernist vision. Begun in 1949 as a weekend retreat, the five-acre parcel of land has grown over the last 50-something years into a vast and evolving terrain for innovations in the fields of architecture, art and landscape design. While most people know the Glass House through reproductions, very few are familiar with the 50-year creative adventure that the structure inspired. Experimentation in forms, materials, and ideas led to the addition of pavilions throughout the estate, many of which are also open for public viewing.

One of Johnson’s lesser-known gems is the windowless all-brick Guest House. Completed the same year as the Glass House and just a stone’s throw from it, it was designed as a complementary contrast to its see-through sibling. Further along on the meticulously sculpted landscape are a concrete circular Pool (1955/56); the Lake Pavillion (1962), a pre-cast concrete structure sited on a man-made pond; the earth beam Painting Gallery (1965), inspired by a classical tomb; the glass-roofed five-floor Sculpture Gallery (1970), modeled after Greek villages; the monumental Entrance Gate (1977); Johnson’s Library (1980), which still houses his collection of architectural books; and Ghost House (1984), a whimsical chain-link barn structure.

Each structure is an eloquent chapter on the timeline of Johnson’s career, from international style to postmodernism. Thanks to The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving sites of great historical interest, visitors are able to walk through the major evolutions of 20th century architectural history, as mapped out by the leader of American modernism. Not bad for an afternoon walk in the park.

Philip Johnson, Architect
July 8, 1906 – January 25, 2005
Studied at the Hackley School, New York then philosophy and history at Harvard University. Later he returned to the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
In 1922, Johnson along with Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Henry-Russell Hitchcock presented “The International Style: Architecture Since 1922" at the Museum of Modern Art, marking the introduction of modern architecture in the US.
In 1968, Johnson and architect John Burgee established Johnson/Burgee Architects in Manhattan.

Key Projects:
The Glass House, Connecticut, 1949
The Seagram Building, Chicago (designed in association with Mies van der Rohe), 1956
New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, (in association with Richard Foster, 1964)
IDS Tower, Minneapolis, 1972
Sony Building (formerly the AT&T Building), Manhattan, 1984
Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston (1985)

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