Built by famed architect Philip Johnson, this masterpiece is one of the nation’s greatest architectural landmarks. Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the Glass House’s exterior walls are made of glass with no interior walls, a radical representation of International Style ideals.
“…The only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place.” – Philip Johnson.
Philip Johnson was a singular tastemaker, influencing architecture, art, and design during the second-half of the twentieth century. The house, which ushered the International Style into residential American architecture, is iconic because of its innovative use of materials and its seamless integration into the landscape. It began an odyssey of architectural experimentation in forms, materials, and ideas through the addition of many new “pavilions” and the methodical sculpting of the surrounding landscape. Today, the campus is an example of the successful preservation and interpretation of modern architecture, landscape, and art.
Symbol of the International Style
Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the Glass House by Philip Johnson, with its perfect proportions and its simplicity, is considered one of the first most brilliant works of modern architecture. Johnson built the 47-acre estate for himself in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house was the first of fourteen structures that the architect built on the property over a span of fifty years.
The Glass House was a remarkable achievement when it was completed in 1949; the Glass House was the first design Johnson built on the property. The one-story house has a 32’x56′ open floor plan enclosed in 18-feet-wide floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass between black steel piers and stock H-beams that anchored the glass in place. Invisible from the road, the house sits on a promontory overlooking a pond with views towards the woods beyond.
The clear glass panels create a series of lively reflections, including those of the surrounding trees, and people walking inside or outside of the house, layering them on top of one another creating everchanging images with each step taken around it.
The interior of the Glass House is completely exposed to the outdoors except for the a cylinder brick structure with the entrance to the bathroom on one side and a fireplace on the other side. The floor-to-ceiling height is ten and a half feet and the brick cylinder structure protrudes from the top.
The only other divisions in the house besides the bathroom are discreetly done with low cabinets and bookshelves, making the house a single open room. This provides ventilation from all four sides flowing through the house as well as ample lighting.
The Glass House is a museum of architecture and art. The museum takes its name from the famous international-style building known as The Glass House, which is part of the complex. Johnson’s New Canaan estate featured a number of other structures, including an art gallery and a sculpture pavilion. He later donated the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and in 2007 it was opened to the public.
The museum is located in a 49-acre National Trust Historic Site, where a series of buildings, fourteen in total, are surrounded by a magnificent landscape, designed by Johnson with European 18th century gardens in mind, with beautiful ponds, creeks, knolls, and woods.
Buildings in the site include the already mentioned Glass House, designed by Johnson in 1945-1949 as a tribute to his mentor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Brick House, also completed in 1949, the Pavilion in the Pond (1962), the Painting Gallery (1965), the Sculpture Gallery (1970), the Studio (1980), and Da Monsta (1995), a black and red building inspired by the sculptural and architectural works of Frank Stella, all designed by Johnson as well.
Buildings and site
- The Brick House, 1949: The Glass House and the Brick House offer a lesson in contrasts. Designed at the same time as the Glass House (1945-48) the Brick House was completed a few months before the Glass House. A grassy court links the two buildings conceived of as a single composition. Both houses are fifty-five feet long; however, the Brick House is only half as deep at the Glass House. The Brick House contains all the support systems necessary for the function of both buildings. As opposed to the transparency of the Glass House, brick almost completely encases the house. The only windows, with the exception of the skylights, are large circular forms at the rear of the building. According to Philip Johnson, this series of round openings alludes to Filippo Brunelleschi’s fifteenth-century Duomo in Florence.
- The pavillion in the pond, 1962: The Pavilion in the Pond is constructed of pre-fabricated concrete arches and roof sections on a poured concrete base. The outdoor pavilion is sited at the edge of a man-made pond located at the bottom of a hill below the Glass House. In the tradition of architectural follies in garden design, the Pavilion’s scaled down size plays with the viewer’s sense of perspective, making it seem further away than it actually is.
- The painting gallery, 1965: The Painting Gallery building is built underground with an entrance modeled on Agamemnon’s Tomb. Paintings are displayed on a system of three revolving racks of carpeted panels. Philip Johnson designed the Painting Gallery to house the collection of large-scale modern paintings that he and David Whitney collected throughout their lives. Works by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, and Julian Schnabel are represented in the permanent collection housed in this building.
Image source: https://inkct.com/2015/05/philip-johnsons-glass-house/
- The sculpture gallery, 1970 : Philip Johnson’s inspiration for the Sculpture Gallery was, in part, the Greek islands and their many villages marked by stairways. The building’s plan comprises a series of squares set at 45-degree angles to each other. Staircases spiral down past a series of bays, which contain sculptures in the following visual sequence: Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, George Segal, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, and Andrew Lord.
The building’s glass ceiling is supported by tubular steel rafters that contain cold cathode lighting. Sunny conditions reveal an extremely complex pattern of light and shadow in the building’s interior five levels. The structure so pleased Johnson that he seriously considered moving his residence from the Glass House to the Sculpture Gallery. However, he did not, stating “Where would I have put the sculpture?”
- The studio, 1980 : The Studio, a one-room workspace and library, was referred to by Johnson as an “event” on the landscape. The interior walls are lined with bookcases filled with 1,400 volumes on architecture, from nineteenth century tomes on German architecture to more recent publications on the work of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and J.J.P. Oud. The selection of books demonstrates the scope of Johnson’s architectural interests, from broad surveys of European, Japanese, Islamic, American, and ancient architecture to monographs on contemporary architects.
- Da Monsta,1995 : Philip Johnson was a friend and supporter of both Frank Gehry and Peter Eisenman – the influence of both seems evident in the non-Euclidean form of Da Monsta. However, Johnson claimed that his original inspiration for Da Monsta came from the design for a museum in Dresden by artist and friend Frank Stella. This building, constructed of modified gunnite, is the closest to Johnson’s thinking about sculpture and form at the end of his life – what he called the “structured warp.” This architectural direction using warped, torqued forms is far from the rectilinear shapes of the International Style.
The name of the building is an adaptation of the “monster,” a phrase for the building that resulted from a conversation with architecture critic Herbert Muschamp. Johnson felt the building had the quality of a living thing.
Info source: http://theglasshouse.org/explore/brick-house/
Info source: http://theglasshouse.org/explore/painting-gallery/
Info source: ttp://theglasshouse.org/explore/sculpture-gallery/
Info source: http://theglasshouse.org/explore/studio/
Info source: http://theglasshouse.org/explore/da-monsta/