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All Things Natty

Nature as Theater: A Visit to Philip Johnson’s Glass House

August 31, 2017
Nature as Theater:  A Visit to Philip Johnson’s Glass House

Built in 1949, Philip Johnson’s Glass House is an iconic modernist landmark set in the rolling hills of New Canaan, Connecticut. Constructed of steel encasing 18-foot wide glass panels, the house invites visitors to immerse themselves in nature through its four translucent walls.

The living room is minimally decorated with Mies van der Rohe furniture and a single painting ‘The Burial of Phocion' (1946) by Nicholas Poussin or his workshop. To be in the Glass House is to observe nature within a designed space. It’s as if one has fortuitously obtained the most coveted seat in a theatre, where the performance is mercurial Nature herself. As Johnson himself proclaimed, “I have the most expensive wallpaper.” I visited on a perfect summer day when everything was lush and verdant and yet, I longed to visit again in the winter when the trees will be outlined in snow.

While clearly the major draw, the Glass House is best thought of in context with the other buildings, sculptures and follies undulating within the hills and valleys of the 47-acre estate that Johnson and his life partner David Grainger Whitney developed over a 50-year period. With its solid brick exterior, the Brick House, originally intended as a guest residence, stands in stark contrast to the translucency of the Glass House. The Pavilion feels farther away than it is because it is only five feet, four inches tall. The tombs of the Mycenae influenced the underground Painting Gallery, built in 1965, and the Sculpture Gallery, developed in 1970, was designed to resemble a white-washed Greek village.

 

The Glass House is open to visitors for tours between May 1st and November 30th. For more information, visit: http://theglasshouse.org .

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