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April 27, 2007

Philip Johnson's Iconic Glass House To Open to Visitors Next Monday


Today's USA Today Travel section story by Gene Sloan lays out the details; it follows.

    Iconic Glass House throws open its doors

    Philip Johnson (1906-2005) is credited with introducing modern architecture to the American public in 1932 when he curated a landmark show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

    Now, decades later, the legendary architect and tastemaker is offering design aficionados a final postscript on the modern movement.

    Johnson's Glass House [top], one of the most celebrated modernist buildings of the 20th century, along with the rest of the architectural wonderland that was his 47-acre estate northeast of New York City, finally opens to the public Monday.

    "You can see it in pictures, but it's hard to understand it until you're in it," says Christy MacLear, executive director of the site. In keeping with Johnson's wishes before he died, it's being opened by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    Finished in 1949, the Glass House famously consists of a single large room, 56 feet by 32 feet, enclosed floor-to-ceiling in glass set between black steel beams. Stretching architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's "less is more" minimalist creed to its logical conclusion, Johnson created a house with no walls and only the barest allowance for furniture (much of which came from the apartment Mies van der Rohe designed for Johnson, including a prototype for Mies' famous daybed).

    Visitors also will be able to enjoy the estate's many other structures. Johnson, whose long career included the design of such post-modernist icons as the AT&T Tower in New York, added one or two buildings every decade.

    Just a few steps away from the Glass House is the Brick House, also completed in 1949. Designed as a guest house as well as a place to hide support systems for the Glass House, it's often cropped out of photos. But Johnson intended the two buildings to be seen as a single composition: the Brick House's windowless brick façade a sharp contrast to its see-through sister.

    Other structures that can be seen from the house include the adjacent circular concrete pool (1955-56); Lake Pavilion (1962), an experiment in pre-cast concrete located on a man-made pond just down a hill; the soft brown, cone-topped Library/Study (1980), a one-room retreat in a grassy field that Johnson called an "event" on the landscape; and playful Ghost House (1984), a barn-shaped folly made entirely of chain-link fencing — a wink at fellow architect Frank Gehry's use of everyday materials.

    "It's like a visual timeline," MacLear says. "Decade by decade, you see everything from the International Style to postmodernism."

    In addition to Glass House and Brick House, visitors will be allowed into three other structures:

    • The Painting Gallery (1965), a 3,800-square-foot tomblike structure built into an earthen mound. It holds works by Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and other 20th-century art giants, collected by Johnson with the help of his longtime partner, curator and collector David Whitney.

    • The Sculpture Gallery (1970), a glass-roofed, five-level building housing works by Stella, Rauschenberg, George Segal, John Chamberlain, Bruce Nauman and others.

    • Da Monsta (1995), a Stella-inspired biomorphic space near the estate entrance that the forward-thinking Johnson built as a visitor center for the inevitable arrival of tourists after his death.

    Johnson, who lived in the Glass House for 56 years and died there in 2005 at age 98, had been planning for more than two decades for the property's transition to museum. He left the estate to the National Trust in 1986 with a caveat that he could stay for the remainder of his life.

    MacLear says the National Trust wants to keep the visitor experience intimate. Attendance is limited to 10 visitors at a time with six tours per day. Reservations are a must; half of the available slots for 2007 already are booked.

    MacLear gazes down the hill toward rows of trees that Johnson carefully had trimmed to create patterns of light visible from the house. "It looks very natural, but it's actually very sculpted," she says, noting Johnson viewed the house as a pavilion for surveying the landscape.

    Visitors should experience the estate the way Johnson did — in silence: "We want people to turn their phones off, turn their beepers off. It's always been a very personal experience."


If You Go:

Location: New Canaan, Conn., 48 miles northeast of New York City.

Getting there: If you don't drive, trains run hourly from New York's Grand Central Terminal, 67 minutes; adults, $12.25.

Hours: Tours begin 10 a.m. daily except Tuesdays, April through October. Go to the visitors center across from the train station.

Admission: $25, 90-minute tour (photography not permitted). Photography allowed on two-hour tour, available once a day, $40. Reservations required.

Information: 866-811-4111; philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.

Note to my crack New England correspondent: Google Maps says you're precisely 85.4 miles away and that driving time is 1 hour 43 minutes.


April 27, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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There was an office building like that near where I grew up. As a friend of mine's Mum said "There's nowhere to pull your tights up".

Posted by: Skipweasel | Apr 30, 2007 6:15:29 PM

I will have to try and go and get pictures and write it up.

Posted by: Adam P Knave | Apr 27, 2007 4:45:08 PM

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