Philip Johnson’s Glass House was completed in 1949. The Glass House was Johnson’s first of many architectural experiments in form, material, and ideas that now dot the forty-acre landscape he called home.
With obvious inspiration taken from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, – exterior walls of glass and no interior walls – it is considered another radical departure from contemporary residences. It is best understood as a steel, glass and brick pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape.
The house is situated on a hill overlooking a pond and views of the woods in the distance. Fifty-five feet long by thirty-three feet wide, the 1,815 square foot glazed structure is accessed on each side by a centrally located glass door. The house is considered iconic for its innovative use of new materials in residential construction and its visually integrated effect with the landscape. The Glass house was but one-half of a composition conceived by Johnson. The other, The Brick House, was more solid and it’s where Johnson slept.
The floor plan of the house is actually less radical a living space. Despite the very innovative construction method, the floor plan could easily belong to a colonial era home, which Johnson himself noted as well as other historical references including the Parthenon, the English garden, the Romantic Movement, and the asymmetry of the 19th century.
While the only full-height walls are those that enclose a small circular bathroom, Johnson referred to specific areas in the rectangular volume as “rooms.” A formal entrance, living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom make up a continuous uninterrupted space, punctuated by the cylindrical hearth and enclosed bathroom.
Placement of furniture, the use of rugs, and built-in storage cabinets make up the architectural cues for defining the “rooms” in Johnsons house. The living room is centrally positioned, with the rest of the areas and their functions arranged around it.
The open plan and glass walls merge with the landscape in all directions. Although such floor plans are quite common today, it was highly unusual in 1949. Noting the glass walls, Johnson said it was “the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects.” Perhaps he should have called it the Sunset Moonrise House.
What strikes me about The Glass House from my own vantage point in time and place is the associations it conjures up that aren’t so radical. Granted, for its time and location in Connecticut, it was hugely so, but for me it recalls screen porches, cooking sheds, covered carports that served as an impromptu outdoor dining area, and gazebos (interestingly, Johnson noted a similar reference to mid-western bandstands).
With so many much that close us off from our environment, the lessons and historical references of the iconic Glass House are a testament to the ability of architecture to shelter us without disconnecting us from nature. For a better experience of the house, check out this 360 degree views online here, The Glass House | 360° Views.
You can learn more about Philip Johnson, his Glass House, and other works at The Glass House.