Johnson′s Glass House: the Anti-McMansion?

East, National, Newsletter
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Courtesy Philip Johnson Glass House

Courtesy Philip Johnson Glass House

Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT clocks in at under 2,000 square feet–tiny compared to the McMansions being built just a stone’s throw away. The transparent house is widely known as one of the earliest and most influential modernist homes in the United States, but its size is also a lesson in sustainable living.

Hilary Lewis, the Philip Johnson Scholar at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recently hosted a conversation discussing how architects and designers can reshape public perception and build homes that are luxurious but small, like the Glass House. Lewis, who worked with Johnson for over twelve years and recorded his memoirs, noted that the house utilized interesting materials in unexpected places, from the brick floor and fireplace to the leather ceiling in the bathroom. The house also took full advantage of the surrounding 50 acres, said Lewis, who explained:

“Johnson and David Whitney worked assiduously, removing trees and planting. It was a constant effort to carve a more interesting landscape. Johnson used to refer to this building as a permanent camping trip — one with very expensive wallpaper.”

The talk was the first of a new weekly series called “Conversations in Context,” in which special guests lead visitors on an intimate tour of the property. The program was inspired by the Glass House’s legacy as a salon where Johnson and his partner David Whitney hosted conversations with the movers and shakers in art, architecture, and design. This week Lewis is also hosting an online conversation about how architects and designers can downsize the idea of luxurious living; go to the Glass House Conversations website to contribute your two cents!

4 Responses to “Johnson′s Glass House: the Anti-McMansion?”

  1. brute force collaborative says:

    a lesson in sustainable living – with single pane glass galore?!?

    the average house in 1950 was 983sf, putting johnson’s abode at over double the national average.

    in today’s terms, that would be equivalent of building a 4200sf house, so while the glass house is small in comparison, in context it was actually a bit mcmansion-esque.

  2. John J. Delibos says:

    I have always tried to design as though each space were a precious jewelry box
    maximizing space and luxury and minimizing waste.

  3. agnostic says:

    the glass house required a ‘brick house’ across from it where the real bedrooms and bathrooms actually were. give me a break.

  4. Chrigid says:

    Never experienced the glass house in person, but based on pictures I’ve always felt it was an exercise in forced exhibitionism, with Johnson in storm-trooper boots and brandishing a whip. Now I’m wondering if it could be an exercise in forced prudery, sex under the covers with the lights out?

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