Iconic houses: Philip Johnson’s Glass House is an beacon of mid-century modernism

Built in 1949, the Glass House has inspired a slew of contemporary architects

glass home connecticut
Photography Ngog Minh Ngo

The Glass House sits on 47 acres of land at the edge of a crest overlooking a pond in New Canaan, Connecticut. Created by Philip Johnson as a home for himself (he lived there until his death in 2005), the property is virtually all glass – vast walls of it are supported only by charcoal-painted steel pillars.

There are no interior walls, instead low walnut cabinets divide the space and a brick floor sits 25cm above the ground, floating in a sea of glass. The view of the landscape surrounding the house is its only visual boundary.

living room connecticut home
Photography Ngog Minh Ngo

One of the greats of American architecture, Johnson was born in 1906. He studied architecture at Harvard under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius and was the founding director of the Department of Architecture at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also worked with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the bronze and glass Seagram Building on Park Avenue, created The Four Seasons Restaurant and designed a series of other buildings in the city.

There are no walls, so the view of the landscape surrounding the house is its only visual boundary

desk connecticut home
Photography Ngog Minh Ngo

The Glass House was Johnson’s personal experimental space; he referred to it as his ‘50-year diary’. The building is surrounded by 14 others, all created by him, including a painting gallery, a sculpture gallery, a library and a reception building. A guest house echoes the Glass House but is made of brick with small round windows at the rear. The architect deliberately designed it to be less than perfectly comfortable. ‘Guests are like fish,’ he said. ‘They should only last three days at most.’

Johnson relished the opportunity to experiment without constraint on the site. ‘This is the purest time I ever had in my life to do architecture. Everything else is tainted with three problems: clients, function and money. Here, I had none of these issues,’ he said.

For tickets to tour the Glass House, visit theglasshouse.org

This article first appeared in June 2019 issue of Elle Decoration

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