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Philip Johnson's Glass House

Pictures of Modern Houses: Philip Johnson's Glass House

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1949: International Style glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA. Designed by Philip Johnson, a Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.
International Style

The International Style Glass House designed by Philip Johnson

Photo courtesy the National Trust

When people come into my house, I say "Just shut up and look around."
—Philip Johnson

The glass house designed by Philip Johnson has been called one of the world's most beautiful and yet least functional homes. Johnson did not envision it as a place to live so much as a stage... and a statement. The house is often cited as a model example of the International Style.

The idea of a house with glass walls was from Mies van der Rohe, who early on had realized the possibilities of glass-facade skyscrapers. As Johnson was writing Mies van der Rohe (1947), a debate ensued between the two men—was a glass house even possible to design? Mies was designing the glass-and-steel Farnsworth House in 1947 when Johnson bought an old dairy farm in Connecticut. On this land, Johnson experimented with fourteen "events," beginning with the 1949 completion of this glass house.

Unlike the Farnsworth House, Philip Johnson's home is symmetrical and sits solidly on the ground. The quarter-inch thick glass walls (the original plate glass was replaced with tempered glass) are supported by black steel pillars. The interior space is mainly divided by its furnishings—dining table and chairs; Barcelona chairs and rug; low walnut cabinets serve as a bar and kitchen; a wardrobe and bed; and a ten-foot brick cylinder (the only area that reaches the ceiling/roof) that contains the leather-tiled bathroom on one side and an open-hearthed fireplace on the other (see floor plan). The cylinder and the brick floors are a polished purple hue.

What Others Say:

Architecture Professor Paul Heyer comparing the Johnson house with Mies van der Rohe's:

"In Johnson's house the entire living space, to all corners, is more visible; and because it is broader—an area 32 feet by 56 feet with a 10 1/2-foot ceiling—it has a more centered feeling, a space where you have a greater sense of 'coming to res.' In other words, where Mies's is dynamic in feeling, Johnson's is more static."—Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America by Paul Heyer, 1966, p. 281

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger:

"...compare the Glass House to places like Monticello or Sir John Soane's Museum in London, both of which are structures that, like this one, are quite literally autobiographies written in the form of houses—amazing buildings in which the architect was the client, and the client was the architect, and the goal was to express in built form the preoccupations of a life....We could see that this house was, as I said, Philip Johnson's autobiography—all of his interests were visible, and all of his architectural preoccupations, beginning with his connection to Mies van der Rohe, and going on to his decorative classicism phase, which yielded the little pavilion, and his interest in an angular, crisp, more purely sculptural modernism, which brought forth the Sculpture Gallery."—"Philip Johnson's Glass House," a Lecture by Paul Goldberger, May 24, 2006 [accessed September 13, 2013]

About the Property:

Philip Johnson used his house as a "viewing platform" to look out at the landscape. He often used the term "Glass House" to describe the entire 47-acre site. In addition to the Glass House, the site has ten buildings designed by Johnson at different periods of his career. Three other older structures were renovated by Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and David Whitney (1939-2005), a renowned art collector, museum curator, and Johnson's long-time partner.

Philip Johnson used the Glass House as his private residence, and many of his Bauhaus furnishings remain there. In 1986, Johnson donated the Glass House to the National Trust, but continued to live there until his death in 2005. The Glass House is now open to the public, with tours booked many months in advance. For information and tour reservations, visit philipjohnsonglasshouse.org

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