One of the key architectural characteristics of ranch homes is that they blur the line between inside and outside. Our merchant-builder ramblers are often low-profile homes with large windows, built-in areas for plants and an orientation to the backyard patio — all in service of a more sunny, casual way of life. But can you imagine living in a house where all four walls let nature peer in? Famed architect Philip Johnson was exploring this very vision when he designed and built the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut between 1945 and 1949. Johnson lived in the home until his death 55 years later.
From the website:
The Glass House is best understood as a pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape. Invisible from the road, the house sits on a promontory overlooking a pond with views towards the woods beyond. Each of the four exterior walls is punctuated by a centrally located glass door that opens onto the landscape. 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.
When Johnson met David Whitney in 1960, the Glass House ‘house” became a lifelong ‘project. When they met, Whitney was quite young, and as his career progressed he would become an accomplished curator and editor in his own right. The two became life partners, and they continued to purchase and together develop parcels of land around the original site for 40 years.
As part of their artistic vision, Johnson and Whitney left all of the existing features found across the property — stonewalls, barn foundations, mature trees, and three vernacular structures that they remodeled and used for daily living. They also added many structures — a sculpture gallery, painting gallery, Da Monsta (meaning “monster” because Johnson felt the building looked like it may be alive), ghost house, library/study, pavilion, and Lincoln Kirstien Tower (described as a staircase to nowhere). These new buildings had a two-fold role: They housed part of Whitney’s extensive art collection and, they acted as art in the greater composition of the property.
In 1986, Johnson donated the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, while retaining the ability to live there until his death. Both Johnson and Whitney died in 2005. Two years later, the National Trust opened the property to the public. The Glass House’s mission today is to offer the campus :
… as a catalyst for the preservation and interpretation of modern architecture, landscape, and art; and as a canvas for inspiration and experimentation honoring the legacy of Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and David Whitney (1939-2005).
This year (2013), The Glass House and grounds are open May 2 – Nov. 30, five days a week (closed Tues. and Wed.) There are a wide variety of guided tours available — from one-hour general tours to 2.5-hour specialized tours covering art, architecture and landscaping. The on-site galleries feature constantly changing art exhibitions and a “Conversations in Context” lecture series allows small groups of visitors to hear from experts in architecture, art, design, history, landscape and preservation speak.
What do you think, readers —
Could you live in a Glass House?
- For more information about The Philip Johnson Glass House, visiting, preservation or ongoing events, visit the website Philip Johnson Glass House.
- The Philip Johnson Glass House has also just recently opened a design store selling high end gifts, books, furniture and souvenirs.