“I have very expensive wallpaper,” Philip Johnson said of The Glass House, an iconic mid-century modern building he designed in New Canaan, Connecticut. Indeed, the “wallpaper” is the vast, unfolding landscape outside the clear glass walls of the house, featuring a pond, tall pines, and meandering stone walls.
The Glass House is just one of several structures Johnson designed on the site, but it’s certainly one of the most striking. Standing inside of a building with nowhere to go where you can’t be seen (except the bathroom) is both an unsettling and inspiring experience.
We visited on a lovely sunny spring day in 2012, but wondered what it might be like to shelter inside the glass house during a thunderstorm or a blizzard. Nothing but a sheet of clear glass would separate you from the drama of nature outside.
That very same glass created a puzzle when it came to lighting choices. At night, the clear glass became a mirror reflecting any indoor lights. On Philip Johnson’s first night in the house, he said, “I turned on the lights and all I see is me, me, me, me, me!” After that, outdoor lighting was installed to light the trees and surrounding area, and only a few small lights remain on the inside. High school students in New Canaan created a fascinating video of how the Glass House changes from evening into night time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOzimeZDFKo
Another favorite stop on our tour was the Sculpture Gallery, where works by Frank Stella, Robert Morris, Andrew Lord, and George Segal play with light and shadows streaming in from the greenhouse-like ceiling. The Painting Gallery just down the path displays works by Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel on huge, rotating walls that allow you to rearrange the art however you’d like.
Read more in a New York Times article that came out soon after the house opened to the public.
The only way to truly experience the Glass House is to visit it in person, and I highly recommend that you go! The site is open during the summer from May through November, any day of the week except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Plan your visit on the Glass House website.
We were thrilled to have a chance to experience Johnson’s vision. Read my next post on how the art, structures and environment interact.This post was co-authored by Jane Prentiss, Director of 20th Century Design, and Kathryn Gargolinski, Web Marketing Specialist at Skinner, Inc. after a visit to the Glass House and Noyes residence on a tour organized by the Boston Architectural College. Originally published May 17, 2012. Revised and updated June 12, 2014.