Glass House

Added by Lindsey Schweinberg, last update: August 17, 2012, 12:23 pm

Glass House
798-856 Ponus Ridge
New Canaan, CT 06840
United States
41° 8' 28.752" N, 73° 31' 39.1584" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Residential (RES)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Commission brief: Philip Johnson built the Glass House as a private residence for personal use

Dates: Commission / Completion:property acquired January, 1946, start of site work: (e) 1947: Glass House, completion/inauguration: (e) 1949: Glass House
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect: Philip C. Johnson Landscape/garden designer: Philip C. Johnson Other designer: John Burgee Consulting engineers: steel subcontractor, Fred Horowitz, Gotham Construction, Port Chester, NY Building contractors: John C. Smith, Inc., New Canaan, CT.; Louis E. Lee Co., New Canaan, Ct.; E.W. Howell Co.
Others associated with Building/Site: Original owner/patron: Philip C. Johnson Names: The Glass House was frequented by many outstanding personalities in the Arts and Architecture fields between 1947 to 2005, including Marcel  Breuer, Landis Gores, John Johansen and Eliot Noyes Association: New Canaan, Ct. Historical Society Event: House Tours
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): Type of change : alteration/renovation/restoration/extension/other: Dates: 1981 Circumstances/ reasons for change: new floor and heating system, improved electrical system and cabinet replacement Effects of changes: none perceived Date: 1982 Circumstances/reasons for change: original green pigskin shower tiles replaced with green mosaic tiles Effects of change: restored shower
Current Use: Of whole site: Museum compound Of principal components: Glass House – former residence, Brick House – former guest house, Painting Gallery – formerly and currently an art gallery, Sculpture Gallery – formerly and currently a sculpture gallery, Lake Pavilion on Pond – artistic, architectural model based upon the scale of dwarf’s quarters in Ducal Palace at Mantua, Ghost House – welded, square sectional steel frame with walls of chain-link fencing – used as frame for lily garden, built in tribute to Frank Gehry, Library/Study – used as a library, study and studio, Visitor’s Center – (referred to as da Monsta by Philip Johnson) conceived as future visitor’s center, Entrance Gates, Kirstein Tower and three vernacular buildings, known as Grainger, Calluna and Popestead. Of other elements: steel footbridge, diving platform, Schnabel sculpture. Of surrounding areas: lawns, rolling, landscaped hills, stone walls, stream, and paths and driveway of crushed stone Comments: Because of the historic significance of the Glass House, alterations to the architecture are prohibited. Proposed improvements include the installation of heat and smoke detectors, emergency lights, horn/strobe alarms, and increased handicapped accessibility.
Current Condition: Of whole site: Excellent – being prepared as National Trust visitation site Of principal components: Excellent Of other elements: The fountain that at one time provided a tall spray of water adjacent to the Pavilion and the Pavilion’s pool jets are no longer operative, and some of the timbers that make up the observation platform and the steps along the pathways have become deteriorated. The various components are in good condition and retain the appearance they had when first constructed.

Of surrounding areas: rolling hills, landscaped and tended

General Description:

Glass House is a one story, 1800 square foot glass and steel building. A rectangular prism, 32 feet by 56 feet in plan with a height of 10 ½ feet. Walls consist entirely of 18-feet- wide floor-to-ceiling single plate-glass sheets, secured between black painted steel piers. Stock H-beams anchored the glass with angle brackets. An off-center cylindrical mass of brick, which has a fireplace on one side and the entrance to the bathroom inside the cylinder on the other protrudes though the flat roof. The foundation is a brick platform with slab for frost footing. Like the floor of the house, which is laid in a herringbone pattern, the cylinder is constructed of glazed brick in various shades of deep reds and browns with lighter colored flecks. Otherwise, the interior is completely open, with low cabinets and bookshelves serving as area dividers. The other major division in the living area, aside from the brick cylinder, is the long line of 42-inch high cabinets which contain the kitchen, Two panels on top of this unit, when opened and folded back, provide a black linoleum work surface. The sink, two refrigerators, a stove are all included in the one unit, besides a liquor cabinet which opens into the living area. Heating runs within the floor and ceiling.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:

Name of surrounding area: New Canaan, Ct.
Type of area: Open fields, stone walls, and scattered clusters of trees; from the road along the ridge, the land gently slopes downward westerly toward a bluff, where it then descends steeply to a small pond and wooded area on the western ridge of the property.
Visual relation: Site provides full sunrise/sunset exposure
Other relations: Brick House (1949) (1952 floor plan remodeled) one story 1000 square feet building of wood frame construction, measuring 18 feet by 52 feet built of Flemish Bond Brick with façade broken by single black painted door at west and three circular windows at the east, flat roof with sheet metal cornice: architect, Philip Johnson; builder, John C. Smith, New Canaan, Ct. Pool (1955/6) circular concrete pool with rectangular platform and an element in the geometric composition of the site: architect and builder, E.W. Howell Co., Philip Johnson, owner and architect. Lake Pavilion (1962) 32 feet square pre-cast concrete structure with open colonnades situated on man-made pond. Painting Gallery (1965) 60 feet by 72 feet earth berm construction in the shape of an asymmetrical four-leaf-clover, inspired by classical tomb: architect, Philip Johnson, builder, E.W. Howell Co. Sculpture Gallery (1970) glass roofed gallery with complex, five star-like pattern of intersecting rectangles and triangles, pitched roofs made of semi-mirrored glass panes set in metal channels, five levels, inspired by Greek villages: architects, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, builder, Louis E. Lee Co., New Canaan, Ct.Entrance Gates (1977) concrete and aluminum construction: architect, Philip Johnson, builder Louis E. Lee Co., New Canaan, Ct. Library/Study (1980) 15 feet by 20 feet reinforced concrete box in plan and 10 feet high with intersecting cylinder 12 feet in diameter, along roofline cone changes to 8 feet in height truncated cone tapering to 3 feet in diameter oculus: architects, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, builder, Louis E. Lee Co., New Canaan, Ct.Ghost House (1984) open structure of chain-link fencing that refers to separate work of Frank Gehry and Venturi Scott Brown.Lincoln Kirstein Tower (1985) inspired by the choreography of George Balanchine and a tribute to friend and former classmate, Lincoln Kirstein: architect, Philip Johnson. da Monsta (1995) 30 feet by 40 feet highly irregular shaped plan, corners forming acute angles and walls with curving dimensions, inspired by the architecture of Frank Stella: architect, Philip Johnson. Three Vernacular Buildings on site: Grainger (1735 farmhouse renovated ca. 1999) used as a retreat, graffiti window; Calluna Farms (ca. 1890, remodeled 1980, renovated 2000) residence of David Whitney; Popestead (completed as a barn in late 19th century then remodeled as a house in 1920’s and again by Johnson in 1996).Art Collection of Philip Johnson includes works by: John Chamberlain, Lynn Davis, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Ibram Lassaw, Andrew Lord, Brice Marden, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, David Stella, Julian Schnabel, George Segal, Cindy Sherman, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.

Technical Evaluation:

Original function maintained, endured long term stress, created great volume inn glass, captured the drama of the site, flexible floor plan, spaces serve dual purpose, outdoor/indoor living

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Play of light and relationship to surrounding landscape gains significance as representative of modernist architecture of the International style, major collection of contemporary art and sculpted landscape, the Glass House represents a survey of architecture and architectural elements which showcase innovations spanning each decade of Philip Johnson’s career. Represents crucial breakthrough in design.

A masterwork of modern American architecture. Epitomizes the International Style and is a premier representative of Modernism. Johnson acknowledged the influence of Mies van de Rohe upon its design as to form and materials and recognized the Glass House as a variation of van de Rohe’s design for Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois.

General Assessment:
The Glass House has national significance because of its association with Philip Johnson whose work had a profound impact on twentieth century architecture. With each structural addition after completion of the Glass House Johnson designed and used the building additions on the site to illustrate his developing architectural philosophy. Features of many of his major subsequent works are suggested by elements first introduced into various structures on the Glass House compound.
Text references:

Haeberly, Mabel, New York Times, December 12, 1948, p. 121.
Glass House, Architectural Forum, November, 1949.
“Philip Johnson in New Canaan, The Glass House”, The New Canaan Historical Society Annual, (Vol. X., No. 2., 1986).
“Philip Johnson’s Modern Heritage”, Historic Preservation, September/October 1986., p.34.
National Historic Landmark Nomination Request, June 28, 1996.
“Philip Johnson Is Dead at 98; Architecture’s Restless Intellect”, Goldberger, Paul., New York Times, January 26, 2005.
”Treading Gently on Hallowed Ground”, Bernstein, Fred A., New York Times, August 13, 2006.
The Harvard Five in New Canaan., Earls, AIA., William D., New York., W.W. Norton., 2006.

Recorder/Date: name of reporter: Richard G. Handler address: 50 Broadway; P.O. Box 427, Amityville, New York 11701 telephone: 631.598.1400      fax: 631.598.0952   e-mail: date of report: March 1, 2007
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
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