Through the Looking Glass (House)

Sep 19 ,



This summer, team ERA took a trip to New Canaan, CT to see Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House. Its use of materials, open floor plan, and immersion in nature were all groundbreaking when it was built in 1949. He used the largest panes of glass available at the time as walls. As someone who is also inspired by nature, I loved how Johnson seamlessly integrated his home into the landscape. When you stand inside, you feel that you are part of nature.

The Glass House is a single room with areas for cooking, dining, living and sleeping. A round brick enclosure holds the bathroom and a fireplace. The furniture by Mies Van Der Rohe is spare, intended to further emphasize the outdoors. Incidentally, Johnson’s Glass House was heavily inspired by the plans for Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which was not completed until a few years after the Glass House.

Behind the Glass House, a man-made pond is accented with the Pavilion where Johnson would sometimes entertain. He designed the Pavilion at an unusually small scale– the arches are only 5’4” high! This gives the effect that the building is farther away and the lake is larger than they truly are. The arched shapes are reminiscent of Lincoln Center, where Johnson designed another famous building: the David H Koch Theater. In the background, you can see the blocky stair-like sculpture the Kirstein Tower.

To complement the Glass House, Johnson also created the Brick House. It was originally designed as a guest house but later was converted into a bedroom and a reading room. While the front of the Brick House has no windows at all, round windows at the back of the house add an unexpected curved element to all the sharp angles that is also echoed in the circular pool to the right.

Many other Johnson structures dot the 49 acre property, each completely different than the other. It was a playground for his inventiveness. One of my favorite buildings was the Sculpture Gallery, pictured above. A glass and steel ceiling floods the building with light, and stripes of sunshine move across the sculptures over the course of the day. It was fascinating to see how Johnson explored so many ideas over the course of his lifetime– and was certainly inspiring!

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