Located in New Canaan, Connecticut, this Glasshouse is considered one of the remarkable works of Modern architecture. Philip Johnson, the architect of the Glasshouse, built the simple yet perfect structure in 1949. Inspired by Farnsworth House designed by his mentor Mies van der Rohe, the Glasshouse is a masterpiece of Philip Johnson.
The Glasshouse covers an area of about 1800 square feet. Which is hugged by a lush green landscape when seen from the top. The Glasshouse is one among fourteen structures built in a 47-acre estate property of Philip Johnson. This house was the first structure to be built in that estate which is beautifully articulated by tall trees. All the fourteen structures including the Glass House were built over a period of fifty years. The other structures in the estate are a brick house, an art gallery, and other spaces which were designed mostly for a weekend getaway. The brick house which stands opposite to the Glass House is a mere contrast to the Glass House itself with its play of materials. There is a fact that Philip Johnson initially had a plan of designing small houses, here and there, in the estate for different moods and seasons.
By having architectural principles such as simplicity, clarity in structure, continuity in spaces, and use of industrial materials, the Glasshouse is considered as an excellent example of the International style. This style also includes a lack of ornamentation which is clearly exhibited in the architecture of Glasshouse.
The Glass wrap
Walking towards the Glass House, the 32 feet by 56 feet house features an ever-changing skin created by nature. The Glass here merely a medium to connect one human soul to the existing nature around the Glasshouse. Evidently, the layers such as the interior of the house and its horizontally underlying nature background are a perfect blend of architecture and nature. The main ingredient of the house, that is, the glass is 18 feet wide from the floor to the ceiling. It is well anchored between black steel piers and stock H-beams. Lifted 10 inches above the ground, the glass wall visually holds the floor and roof together.
While the glass walls have a height of ten feet from floor to ceiling, a cylindrical brick wall which is located inside the house protrudes out by breaking the visual balance while seen from outside. To experience life inside the Glasshouse, let us get inside the house.
Life inside Glass house
Getting into the Glasshouse, the open plan of the house fills the space with ample light. The cylindrical wall steals focus because that is the only element in the house that considers privacy. The cylindrical element houses the fireplace as well as a bath space. The brick flooring in a herringbone pattern contrasts well with the glass. In addition to the floor, the cylindrical screen wall is also made of bricks.
The interior of the Glasshouse consists of spaces for dining, living, and sleeping. However, there are low-height shelves that act as a small partition. The furniture in the house was brought from Philip Johnson’s New York apartment. That furniture was designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1930. A daybed in the house was specifically designed for Philip Johnson by Mies van der Rohe. More than a house, this house was used as office space by Philip Johnson. Paintings of Elie Nadelman and Nicolas Poussin are kept in the house, through which Philip Johnson got the idea of trimming the trees around the house to get orderly views of nature around the house.
Yet having an open plan, the Glasshouse evolved as a space of multiple activities with the placement of furniture. Furniture in the Glasshouse defines the interior effortlessly. The ideal aim of the house to capture the landscape around it is eventually achieved through sensible planning. The private spaces such as the bedroom and kitchen are defined by the cabinets. The 1800 square feet space without walls is designed in such a way that it should feel compact as well as comfortable. The house, although has no walls, it has no screens too. To formulate an interesting interior-exterior relationship, such open planning was made. As the house was built in an era where all these principles were new to a common person, it received more criticism as well as giving a new perspective to the world.
Through the architect’s eyes
The architect of the Glass House, Philip Johnson, himself considered the house a “simple cube”. However, he called the Glasshouse a house with an “expensive wallpaper”. Philip Johnson spent his life in and off the Glasshouse with his long-time partner David Whitney until his death in 2005. They enjoyed the minimalistic lifestyle in the estate surrounded by tall trees. When one of the visitors made a comment about the Glasshouse that the house is beautiful but she could not live there, the architect replied, “ I haven’t asked you to, madame”. Thus, the architect Philip Johnson enjoyed his life there in Glasshouse with his partner David Whitney which was actually built to accommodate his own lifestyle. Unlike conventional American houses, the Glasshouse by Philip Johnson was very different in its approach in that era.
The house today
Though many criticisms faced all these years, the estate is now a National Historic Landmark of the U.S. It has been declared in the year 1997. The compound where Philip Johnson’s fourteen structures exhibited including the Glasshouse receives more visitors. The artistic and minimal composition of simple elements with simple materials made the Glasshouse an architectural marvel. Since the creation of the Glasshouse, many such glass structures evolved around the world. But ‘the first-ever made’ bold architecture of the Glasshouse will stand firmly by telling its story forever in the history of Modern architecture.