Johnson′s Glass House: the Anti-McMansion?

East National Newsletter
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!

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