Discover Philip Johnson's Famous Glass House

CEO Khai Intela
Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was an acclaimed American architect renowned for his innovative modern and postmodern designs. Having studied philosophy and classics at Harvard, Johnson began his career as a curator at the Museum of Modern...

philip johnson glass house

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was an acclaimed American architect renowned for his innovative modern and postmodern designs. Having studied philosophy and classics at Harvard, Johnson began his career as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After serving in World War II, he returned to Harvard to pursue a graduate program in architecture. The Glass House, completed in 1949, stands as Johnson's most iconic creation.

A Signature Design

After returning from the war in 1946, Johnson purchased a five-acre plot in New Canaan, near New York City. His vision for a personal residence began to take shape, resulting in the design of The Glass House between 1946 and 1948. However, the house and its interior design, as well as the surrounding landscape, continued to evolve for years after its initial completion. Johnson's life partner, David Grainger Whitney, played a vital role in shaping the property's landscape and art collection.

philip johnson in front of glass house Photograph of Philip Johnson, leaning against the Brick House, in front of the Glass House which was built in 1949, via The Glass House website

An Oasis of Privacy

The Glass House, situated on Johnson's expansive land, provided a sense of seclusion despite its transparent walls. However, Johnson felt the need for additional residences, resulting in the construction of the Brick House in 1949. Unlike the Glass House, the Brick House lacked windows on most of its walls, with only three round windows on the rear facade. This space primarily served as a guest house, aptly referred to as the Guest House.

Apart from the Glass House and the Brick House, Johnson's New Canaan property featured various other buildings, including a gallery space, library, studio, and a lake pavilion called the Pavilion in the Pond.

philip johnson brick house exterior

Harmony in Design

Instead of constructing a single multipurpose dwelling, Johnson opted for distinct buildings on his plot, each with its own purpose. The Glass House, positioned at the center of the property, served as the main residence. It featured a living area, kitchenette, bathroom, and sleeping area. Johnson and Whitney resided in the Glass House from 1949 until their deaths in 2005, even after Johnson donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986.

philip johnson brick house

Materials and Aesthetic

The Glass House is characterized by its use of glass, steel, and brick. Steel and glass form the outer walls, while the floor is constructed with brick. Wood is utilized for kitchen cabinets, bathroom doors, and the closet behind the bed. Steel furniture, including chairs and a daybed designed by Mies van der Rohe, enhances the minimalist and natural ambiance of the space.

glass house interior furnishing mies Photograph of the Mies van der Rohe pieces in the interior of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, via Ignant

Inspiration and Legacy

The Glass House's design draws inspiration from Mies van der Rohe's work, specifically the implementation of an open plan with distinct planes and blocks separating different areas. Johnson's adaptation of the modernist concept of asymmetry can be seen in the round bathroom building. Furthermore, influences from artist Kazimir Malevich, as well as Suprematism and Constructivism, are evident in the geometric shapes and compositions found within the house.

glass house fireplace

Beyond its architectural significance, the Glass House has left an indelible mark on the history of architecture. It has inspired countless architects and designers to challenge traditional design principles and explore new ways of conceptualizing space. The house's minimalist aesthetic, open plan, and innovative use of glass as a building material have become defining features of modern architecture. Johnson referred to it as a "simple cube," while the New York Times hailed it as "the world's most famous transparent box."

philip johnson glass house front view

A Unique Perspective

Johnson's Glass House, along with Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, stands as a testament to their shared exploration of glass house design. Despite similarities, Johnson believed that his creation was distinctively influenced by historical styles and asymmetry, setting it apart from Mies' approach. The Glass House and its surrounding landscape were also inspired by the English garden, the Parthenon, and the late nineteenth-century asymmetrical architectural works.