On a splendid spring day last week I visited the famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Architect Philip Johnson built the house for himself as a second home in 1949. At that time it was celebrated for its simplicity and purity, and as a manifesto of modern design principles. Now, years after his death, it’s maintained by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and open for tours in the spring and summer.
The house is exactly what it sounds like, a small glass box with a roof on it. It’s smaller than it seems in photographs, just 28′ x 45′ and 12′ high. The house sits within an immense 47-acre property, on a grassy bluff with maple trees that overlooks a small pond.
Architects will tell you that they use glass because it creates “transparencies” and “continuities” with the outside world. All of that intellectualizing falls away the moment you step inside of the house, which is exquisitely scaled and furnished. It feels magically immaterial, as if it has no substance or structure. You sense that you’re out under the trees, and yet you’re inside a lovely modern house with efficient bedroom, kitchen, living and dining areas, and gorgeous Mies Van Der Rohe-designed furniture.
It’s the peaceful out-in-nature feeling combined with the super-modern design that makes the house compelling for me. I imagined what it would be like to spend weekends there, to enjoy my morning coffee on a chair on the lawn, or throw open the doors and host a cocktail party on a warm summer evening. A professor of mine in architecture school once said that every house was a fantasy of living. The Glass House is a particularly magnificent fantasy.
(Second and third photos by Eirik Johnson, courtesy of Philip Johnson Glass House)