Sunday, May 3, 2009

Philip Johnson Glass House

New Canaan, CT

I've visited many house museums. They've always been a favorite on our trips. And then on my birthday in March I'd drag the family to something nearby. But truth is, its hard to find house museums open in early March.

In theory I don't have to actively visit homes for quite some time. I've got lots of reviews, if not pictures, stored in my memory. Here's one that you may not think of in the category of house museums- a modern home built by Philip Johnson, the Glass House.


Architect Philip Johnson knew he had something special here and he passed it on to histories protectorate long before he moved on. In 1986 he bequeathed the property, 46 acres, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with the stipulation that he could live there until his death, which as it turned out was not until some 19 years later.

I visited the home on a perfect sunny summer day- warm but not too much so with a beautiful breeze. Sitting at the tables on the lawn just outside the side door I relaxed while overlooking the miniature turret and pond.

Our guide dressed all in white had a passion for the modernist homes of New Canaan designed by the Harvard five, Marcel Breur,Landis Gores,John Johansen,Philip Johnson,and Eliot Noyes.

I'm not sure what I expected. I knew there'd be a glass house. But there's not simply a totally inventive house on the property. There's 6 buildings- 4 of which we toured. Wait you really should count the gate at the entrance to the property as a structure. So make it 7. The gate is massive, imposing and medieval like but modernist in spirit and design. It signals that you've crossed over into a consuming experience.

When Johnson purchased the property in the late 1940's he envisioned the whole of the land his home. How could he have seen through the forest to the curve of the land that would yield itself to multiple levels on which to plant fascinating structures and foliage. But here in 2008 my eyes wondered down the hillside to the wild turkeys shading themselves under the tree canopy and to the round shimmering pool with a concrete rectangular border that mimicked the house 50 feet away, and then to the bunker that transformed itself into an art museum.

While everyone on the tour was fascinated, eager to search out and discuss every nook and cranny, it seems Mr Johnson's neighbors hadn't always felt the same. The property is surrounded by a stone wall. In Fairfield County, CT this is common but this one is particularly high. And the story or is it legend has it that Mr Johnson added to the height because his neighbors complained they'd seen him naked too many times.

Tickets to the Glass House are hard to come by. They go on sale once or twice a year and sell out within a day or two. I registered on their website; was notified of the upcoming sale and sat at my computer as the clock clicked down the minutes to sale time. It was worth it.

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