Behind the Glass

Architect Philip Johnson’s home in Connecticut becomes a National Trust historic site.

 

Glass
The house, the centerpiece of an estate that Johnson
added to over the years, is a 56-foot-long box.

Credit: (Carol Highsmith)

I have visited the Glass House, the late Philip Johnson’s extraordinary home in New Canaan, Conn., off and on for more than 35 years, but this moment is bittersweet for me, since it is the first time I have been here without Philip Johnson being present. Two years ago, Philip died right here, six months short of his 99th birthday. His identity is so tied into this place that the structure feels less like a work of architecture than an autobiography written in the form of a house, much like Monticello or Sir John Soane’s Museum in London—amazing buildings in which the architect was the client, and the client was the architect, and the goal was to express in built form the preoccupations of a life.

I first came here as a Yale undergraduate in 1970.  My professor, Vincent Scully, had sent me to New York City to call upon Philip, in the hope that he might provide some support for a university publication I was working on. I emerged from his office in the Seagram Building with a check for $500—a lot of money in those days—and an invitation to visit him in Connecticut. I can still remember Philip’s voice on the phone some time later, at once gracious and impatient, as he tried to give me directions to the Glass House. "Turn at the barn onto Jelliff Mill Road," he said, and I, not hearing clearly, said "Jealous Mill? Like the emotion?"

For more of this article, look for the January/February 2007 issue on newsstands or e-mail us to purchase a copy.

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