Glass House Opens


Philip Johnson’s modernist classic the Glass House estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, opened to the public for the first time on Saturday. Completed in 1949 it served as Johnson’s residence until his death in 2005. The 47 acre property, which includes 14 buildings, extensive landscape architecture and a significant collection of modernist art, was transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with funds provided by Johnson and his partner David Whitney, to establish it as a museum and aid in its preservation.

Two hour tours with photography allowed, and ninety minute tours occur daily with a maximum of ten visitors per tour. The estate will be open annually from May through the end of October. All tickets for the 2007 season have sold out.


Regarded as one of the world’s iconic, mid-century modernist structures, the Philip Johnson Glass House began in 1949 as a five-acre parcel of land containing the Glass House, Brick House and connecting courtyard. The site has grown over the course of nearly 50 years, and stands today as Philip Johnson’s 47-acre canvas, showcasing innovations in the fields of architecture, art and landscape design. Each decade, new structures were built, artwork was acquired, and landscape was sculpted; the site evolved into a unique modernist campus that was also a place for the support and cultivation of architects, artists, and designers.

Philip Johnson built the Glass House in New Canaan as his private residence, and used it continuously until his death in 2005. Known for its play of light and relationship to the surrounding landscape, the Glass House is constructed of sheets of quarter-inch glass divided and supported by black steel pillars with no interior walls. Johnson considered the house to be a “viewing platform,” and its purpose was to provide a vantage point on the landscape. Johnson interchangeably referred to the entire site including the house as “the Glass House.”

The site encompasses fourteen structures-eleven structures designed by Johnson and three vernacular structures original to the property and renovated by Johnson and Whitney. The Johnson-designed structures include: the Glass House (1949), the site’s main pavilion; Brick House (1949), the site’s guest-house; Pool (1955/6), a circular concrete pool with a rectangular platform and an element in the geometric composition of the site; Lake Pavilion (1962), a pre-cast concrete structure sited on a man-made pond; Painting Gallery (1965), an earth berm construction inspired by a classical tomb; Sculpture Gallery (1970), a glass-roofed gallery with five floors inspired by Greek villages; Entrance Gate (1977), a monumental concrete and aluminum construction; Library/Study (1980) used as Mr. Johnson’s study and housing his collection of architecture books; Ghost House (1984), an open structure of chain-link fencing that refers to the separate work of architects Frank Gehry and Venturi Scott Brown; Lincoln Kirstein Tower (1985), inspired by the choreography of George Balanchine and a tribute to Johnson’s friend from Harvard College who later founded the New York City ballet, Lincoln Kirstein; and Da Monsta, a visitor’s pavilion (1995) that was inspired by the architectural work of Frank Stella.

The site also has three vernacular buildings that Johnson renovated to integrate them with the property and its surrounding landscape. These buildings provided the context for many daily activities at the Glass House, and the landscape with its stone walls, foot paths, and bridges, and were the organizing principles. A 1735 farmhouse remodeled ca. 1999, known as Grainger, was intended as a retreat for Johnson and Whitney. It will now accommodate the site’s education programs. Whitney’s residence, Calluna Farms, originally built in about 1890, will be used for administrative offices and residential fellowships. Completed as a barn in the late 19th century, Popestead was remodeled as a house in the 1920s and again by Johnson and Whitney in 1996. It will continue to be used as a staff residence.

Artwork on the site includes work by important artists who were longtime friends of Johnson and Whitney whom they supported throughout their careers including: John Chamberlain, Lynn Davis, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Ibram Lassaw, Andrew Lord, Brice Marden, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, George Segal, Cindy Sherman, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.

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Philip Johnson has been at the center of American architecture since he served as the first Director of Architecture at The Museum of Modern Art in 1932, following his graduation from Harvard College. There, he co-authored and curated the groundbreaking book and show on modernism, The International Style. He would continue a professional relationship with the museum for the remainder of his life, which included many shows and the donation of over 2,000 works of art, making him the Museum’s second largest donor.

During the following seven decades, Johnson has designed some of America’s greatest landmarks, most notably his own home, the Glass House, and in New York, Johnson designed the garden at The Museum of Modern Art, the AT&T building, 53rd at Third (“Lipstick Building”), and the Museum of Television & Radio, among other structures. An associate of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Johnson worked with him on the design of New York’s Seagram building and was responsible for the design of its Four Seasons Restaurant. Johnson’s contributions earned him architecture’s highest awards, including the AIA Gold Medal and the Pritzker Prize.

Born in 1906, Johnson practiced architecture until his death in January 2005. Not content to focus solely on his own work in architecture, Johnson was well known for his dedication to the support of other architects’ work. In this capacity, he curated shows, wrote articles, and found commissions for many younger designers. His greatest commitment was to the belief that architecture is an art.

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