How to make a friend in Uganda. business consultant, NGO worker, former Peace Corps volunteer, activist: searching for sustainable solutions to eradicate extreme poverty

September 11, 2009

a pilgrimage to visit Philip Johnson’s Glass House

I have studied the work of Philip Johnson extensively. So it was with much anticipation and excitement that a few weeks ago, on the way back from my eco-adventure, I stopped in New Caanan, Connecticut to visit his Glass House. I love Johnson’s modern approach to space and light. To many his greatest legacy is indeed the glass house, which takes the concept of connection between indoor and outdoor space to the extreme. Every exterior wall is made of glass. No partition walls exist; the only visual obstructions inside the rectangular structure are a brick cylinder — that houses the fireplace and 3/4 bath — and a large wardrobe, which doubles as the headboard for the bed.
The simple kitchen functions well for a man who didn’t have to contend with storing groceries for a large family. Indeed, the house saw its use mainly as a weekend party retreat for most of Johnson’s life. Note that the countertop folds over the stove top and sink to transform into a wet bar.
The brickhouse which stands opposite the glass house is remarkable mainly as a foil for the glass house. The three round windows on the back side are invisible to the casual observer, leaving the solid brick walls to reflect off the gleam of the glass that oppose it. It was originally constructed to house weekend guests, but was later remodeled to eliminate all but one of the bedrooms and replace the other two with a library. The story is that Johnson preferred to shuttle his guests on the train back to the city rather than have them stay overnight. A collapsed three foot-wide tunnel connects the two buildings to provide water, electricity, and heat to the glass house.
I was most excited to visit the underground painting gallery and the sculture gallery. Inside, a handful of large paintings still hang on the rotating panels. Our tour guide coyly moved one so that we could slip behind and see a priceless original portrait of Johnson painted by Andy Warhol. The entire tour group crowded in, stood motionless and stared. What a rare chance to see the likeness of one great modern artist painted by another!
painting gallerywarhol
If you are interested in architecture to any degree, I urge you to make a pilgrimage to New Caanan. You’ll have to book your visit months in advance but all the planning will be worth it as you walk the grounds of a master architect’s residential retreat, hear inside stories of his life and work, and discover the details of his buildings that are never seen on the web — be it my ecletic blog or even a more robust travelog.

(photos of painting gallery courtesy Habitually Chic)

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