Those who live in glass houses…


A Donald Judd sculpture greets visitors as the house comes into view on the drive through the gates.

Recently visiting the famed Glass House by modern architect Philip Johnson was a big treat. Having only seen photographs of this famous home it was exciting to view it in person and learn about its history. The property, located in the charming town of New Canaan, CT (which has many renowned homes of architectural importance), comprises an entire compound of buildings and sculptural work that capture the various styles Mr. Johnson explored during his illustrious 70 year career.

A haven and respite from the chaotic environs of New York City, the house was originally designed to be a “fancy campout” but eventually, and early on, became his permanent year-round residence and he reveled in the world he created while living there.


The guest house, one of the three elements anchoring the triangle of structures.


The “martini” pool, the final element in the triangle of structures.

Combining three structural elements—the glass house, a brick guest house and a whimsical circular pool (shaped to resemble a martini glass)—the triage of buildings encloses a grass courtyard with gravel divisions providing narrow walkways. This set of buildings was designed to balance the property and provide a sense of cohesion with the glass house being the focal point.


The interior living room area with famed Barcelona Chairs and other furnishings by Mies van der Rohe.

Philip Johnson was a man of ideas who conceptions did not always bear out well in tangible form. Unfortunately he was not a pragmatist and much of what looked good on paper (leather lined bathroom walls, a very short chimney, a lack of ventilation for the kitchen island and a flat roof without proper weather drainage) did not translate from an engineering perspective. But as a utopian visage the house is a marvelous feat of inspiration and imagination. And all is forgiven when walking through the door and seeing the stunning panoramic view (which Philip Johnson created by bringing in soil to level the steep hill, essentially making a ledge for the house to sit on), the perfect Mies van der Rohe furniture, the minimal aesthetic and the sheer sense of space the house embodies (at 1,850 square feet).


The man made lake with pergola in forced perspective. Philip Johnson intentionally designed it in a smaller scale and low roofline to appear farther away than it actually is. A clever architectural feat!

On the day I visited, the property was hosting a small, short term exhibition by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who surrounded the exterior of the main structure with her signature polka dots, placed 1300 floating silver balls in the pond and installed a silver pumpkin with red polka dots along a walking path. The work added a level of amusement and charm to the austere property.


Yayoi Kusama’s “pumpkin” sculptures, one of her favorite motifs.

The Visitor’s Center offers a range of tours and extensive information about the house and property. Being here was a great experience and thoroughly enjoyable. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the architect and the man who for decades dominated the field of architecture and conceptual design.