Monday, December 5, 2011

People who live in glass houses...

I spent last week visiting my parents, who live just outside of New York City.  We shopped til we dropped, went to a Broadway show, saw a great exhibit at the Guggenheim, walked through Times Square, stopped to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and ate many a great meal.

But a highlight of my trip was definitely our tour of Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.  Philip Johnson was a well-known and influential architect who was inspired by, and worked closely with Mies van der Rohe.  In 1949, Johnson built the Glass House, which he occupied until his death in 2005.

There were a few themes pointed out to us throughout the tour.  One was the very simple juxta-positioning of a circle beside a rectangle.  The furniture placement, and even the site placement of buildings on the property, often played up this theme.  Another theme was the concept of a "hide" followed by a "reveal".  In other words, we were often presented with an obstructed view before seeing the truly amazing features of the property.  It creates a bit of mystery and awe.

Here is just an example of the hide before the reveal.  Entering the property, there are a number of obstructions before you get a proper glimpse of the actual glass house.

Even as you approach very closely, there is a stone wall that is just at/above average eye level, and obstructs the view of the house. This entire theme is full of wit, when you consider that the house itself hides nothing!

Another example of the hide and reveal.  We approached this circle expecting to find water or a garden.  The surprise is that there is nothing!  In the spring there are some wild crocuses.  But the grass inside the circle is level with the grass outside the circle, and the effect is mostly trickery!  This circle also plays up the circle/rectangle theme, as it contrasts against the surrounding rectangular buildings.  The edge detail is also mirrored in the pool.

Once we finally got a good look at the glass house, I was amazed by its beauty and simplicity.  I love the clean lines, the bold framing, and the overall serenity of the scene.

One takeaway I had from this tour, was that no matter how great the architect, effect sometimes overrules practicality, and mistakes in judgement can be made.  We were not able to enter the Brick House, as it has had extensive water damage recently - partly caused by its location at the bottom of a slope, where runoff would be an issue.

The Sculpture Gallery has also experienced water damage, but we were still able to take a peek inside:

There are a number of other buildings on the property.  The Painting Gallery houses three giant rolodex-type apparatuses used to display paintings by a variety of famous artists.  This is the very cool entrance to the gallery:

An Andy Warhol work of Philip Johnson

Back in the Glass House, we also witnessed the rectangle/circle theme:

Rectangular box and circular light are the only items atop the desk.

The bathroom is really the only part of the house with any privacy.  It is enclosed in a circular chimney-like structure (in fact, the fireplace is on the backside of the bathroom).  

Again, practicality was not the focus, as Johnson initially had all leather tile  in the bathroom, which doesn't smell great as it holds moisture.  So most of the tile was replaced, and the only leather remains on the ceiling.

Circular ashtray and rectangular cigarette box are the only items on the coffee table.

Circular table beside rectangular bed.  No pillows on the bed as they would change that effect!   

Even as the sun set, I was so impressed by how the glass continues to demonstrate artistry - here you see that outside the glass reflected the sky and surrounding trees.

It was an amazing tour.  I can't say I would love living in a house where effect overrules practicality.  A balance of style and comfort is important to me.  But I was also inspired by the property which was simple in details but complex in thought and design.


  1. Very cool - I didn't realize your parents lived outside convenient! I love snooping around houses with interesting architecture. Not sure I'd be completely comfortable in a glass house though...I like my privacy too much! I love those Barcelona chairs in the living room...I have a slight obsession with those chairs...

  2. Very convenient is right!

    So the neat thing about the Barcelona chairs, is that they were designed by Mies van der Rohe, who was a good friend of Philip Johnson. (Philip Johnson, had some cool friends, Andy Warhol included!). And actually, Mies van der Rohe designed and built his own glass house at the exact same time Johnson was building his... they drew a lot of comparisons to his during our tour:

    I did love the aesthetics.... but I also love having a big cozy couch with all kinds of blankets and cushions where we watch TV!