It’s a peculiar notion of human nature that the first thought associated with a glass house is what other people may see by looking in. Okay, there’s that other thought about throwing stones, too. But eventually we reach a more introspective thought. What are the walls that protect our secret lives also isolating us from?
The Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, was designed and owned by Philip Johnson. A Harvard-educated philosopher and a self-taught architect, Johnson was largely responsible for introducing the International Style of architecture to the United States in the 1930s. The International Style evolved from the modernist movement in Europe, which philosophically sought to create a more transparent society. Physically, International Style was defined by volume over mass, balance, and simplicity. With the Glass House, Philip took those concepts to their most literal representation.
Johnson designed the home (1945-1948) at a time when it was relatively revolutionary to incorporate existing landscape into residential architecture. In fact, not only was the Glass House built to take advantage of its surroundings, the landscape and topography ultimately dictated the final result. Though the execution is simple, even according to Johnson himself, the evolution of the design and subtle incorporation of nuanced, historic influences were complex. Hence why the design of an 1,800-square-foot rectangle took three years.
Today, the Glass House is lauded for the innovative use of materials and for the integration with nature.
Of nature’s inspiration, Johnson said, “I thought it’d be nice to have a place that you could swivel all the way around and see the whole place, which is what you can do. I claim that’s the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place. Because that’s an impossibility in any house; you have to walk to another room to see one or the other of those effects. But I get it all the time here in the Glass House.”
Technically, there are no walls in the house. The exterior structure is all glass, and the only interior room to be fully enclosed is the bathroom. Though in the strictest sense, even the bathroom isn’t a “room,” but rather a circular pavilion. The delineation of the interior spaces is accomplished with bookcases and structural furniture. It’s the asymmetry of the interior that contrasts with the extreme symmetry of the exterior to find a pleasing balance.
Today the Glass House is protected as a National Trust Historic Site. There are several other, equally-intriguing outbuildings, and a renowned modern art gallery. Daily tours are offered May – November.
Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.