The Glass House: by architect Philip Johnson

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Robison Wells
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An icon of modern architecture, the Glass House stands out as both an example of minimalism and an art piece in and of itself. Made of steel, brick and glass—a lot of glass—the house is transparent, set in the center of Connecticut forest and grass. A rectangle, the house is 56 feet by 32 feet, one story, with a brick cylinder in the center that serves as the bathroom—it’s the only private space in the building.

But the house was not meant as a piece of voyeurism. The driving force was not one of allowing outsiders to see inside. In fact, the house is on such large acreage (initially eleven acres, and later expanded to two hundred) because the architect, Philip Johnson, wanted to have unrestricted views. (The house is set back considerably from the road, so that it’s out of the view of passersby. However, while the house was occupied it attracted a lot of trespassers, especially Yale architecture students.) Even while the house was occupied—it was lived in by Johnson until his death in 2005—there were public tours a few days a week. Now the entire grounds are open to visitors. Many other buildings are on the property, all designed by Johnson; some of the structures are usable, such as a brick studio, but many are considered follies (buildings which are built primarily for decoration).

The house was heavily influenced by the Farnsworth House, designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, who was considered one of the fathers of the modernist architecture movement. The Glass House has several pieces of furniture designed by Van Der Rohe, but that doesn’t mean that Johnson and Van Der Rohe were friends. Upset by what he viewed as a sort of architectural plagiarmism, Van Der Rohe was said to have “stormed out in a huff when he saw it”. Even so, architecture critics hail the Glass House as a pioneer in the modernist movement, and say that its fame has been responsible for making modernism more palatable to the United States.

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