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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Philip Johnson the glass House | Designed, materials & construction details

  Rajesh Kumar Rana       Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Few can boast of such a massive contribution to American architecture as Philip Johnson and some of his contemporaries, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Sony Building and the Lipstick Building in New York, Thanksgiving Square in Dallas, the Crystal Cathedral in California are just a few monumental buildings on Johnson's track record. All of them are captured in a new book by Phaidon 🔗 Philip Johnson: A Visual Biography.

In this article, we talk about architect Philip Johnson The glass House, which became the prototype of modern American architecture. 🔗Wikipedia

Philip Johnson The Glass House

Philip Johnson Glass House

American designer, architect and critic Philip Johnson is considered the founder of the "international style" in America. Johnson proposed to abandon national cultural characteristics and historical decor in architecture in favor of straight lines, clean geometric shapes and light and smooth surfaces.

The architect was a student of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. After graduating from Harvard in 1930, Johnson founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His later work did much to shape architectural postmodernism. Philip Johnson was the first recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1979.



  • Location: New Canaan, Connecticut
  • Year built: 1949

  • Style: modernism

The famous Glass House is located in New Canaan, an American city in the state of Connecticut. This is the first building that the architect built on the acquired land of 49 acres. In addition to the house, there are 14 other buildings on the territory - including a guest house, an art gallery and a sculpture pavilion. Johnson worked on them for 50 years, experimenting and developing his architectural approach. The glass house became a turning point in the career of an architect. The building has been recognized as an icon of modern architecture.

It is believed that Johnson's house came about as a result of a dispute with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The architects agreed that everyone would build a house entirely out of glass. Johnson completed the work faster, but borrowed a lot from his German colleague. Although both buildings have become iconic, the mark of originality is usually left to  Mies van der Rohe.

Philip Johnson The glass House plan
Master plan of the territory and plans of the Glass house.

In his work on the building, Johnson combined many trends and approaches that were popular in different periods of art history. Stylistically, The Glass House is a mixture of International Style, Cubism, Ancient Greek architecture, Romanticism, English garden aesthetics and 19th century asymmetry.

Johnson visited his residence every weekend. But this place was intended not only for peaceful rest. The architect often gathered guests here and held parties. His famous friends came here: Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Robert Stern. Merce Cunningham held his performances there, and The Velvet Underground gave concerts.


Philip Johnson Glass House JUN2012 view 2

The Johnson Glass House is a rectangular parallelepiped 17 meters long, 10 meters wide and three meters high. The symmetry and isolation of the house is broken only by a volumetric cylinder made of bricks, which breaks out through the upper surface of the figure.

The black steel pillars and beams that make up the building's skeleton keep the glass walls firmly in place. The iron frame is slightly raised above the ground and rests on a low granite foundation.

The building is located on a small hill, overlooking the forested area for which New Canaan is famous. Johnson liked to talk about his project primarily as a landscape design rather than an architectural work. The glass walls reflect the outer space, and the building itself merges with the environment.

On the other side of the house is an elaborate natural landscape, a tribute to an 18th-century English park. The house is surrounded by a curving hilly area with a neatly manicured lawn, trees and granite paths.

Opposite the Glass House is another building connected to it by a narrow path - the Brick House. Both buildings were designed at the same time, and Johnson spoke of them as parts of the same composition. House antagonize each other: a small brick structure looks closed and ponderous compared to the transparent and light Glass House.


Philip Johnson Glass House JUN2012 int 1

From the inside, the house resembles an open-plan one-room premise, discreetly furnished with interior items. Despite the absence of walls, the interior space of the building is divided into functional zones. Johnson called them rooms. The house has a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom, fireplace and entrance hall.

In order to clearly divide the house into sectors, Johnson needed to arrange the elements of the interior with great precision. For zoning the room, he used walnut blocks and cabinets. To define the space of the living room, the architect laid out a large carpet, on which he placed a transparent table and several leather couches designed by Mies van der Rohe. Inside the cylindrical column there is a bathroom, and from the side of the living room a fireplace is built into it. Behind the bathroom, in seclusion from the rest of the space, is the bedroom. It is also separated by a row of cabinets.

Such a strict arrangement of the interior space of the building contrasts with the fickle natural landscape. Johnson liked to say that the forest landscape was very expensive wallpaper on the walls of his house. Through the glass you can see the garden around the building and the wide forests spreading under the hill.

Against the wall next to the fireplace was a 17th-century French artist Nicolas Poussin Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion. Opposite the canvas was a sculpture by Polish-American artist and sculptor Elie Nadelman. It is made of papier-mâché on gypsum reinforcement with internal bamboo props. Both works were selected for Johnson's home by Alfred H. Barr jr., director of the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Philip Johnson Glass House JUN2012 view 4


Philip johnson glass house Architectural features, materials & construction details

Philip Johnson's glass house, built on top of a hill, is laconic, simple and "transparent". Three main materials were used in the construction process:

Glass: 5.5-meter huge glass plates serve as the walls of the house. On the one hand, they protect those inside from the vagaries of the weather, and on the other hand, they create a special unity with nature, which is expressed even in the interweaving of reflections of the interior and landscape on the glass.

Steel: For the frame, the architect used durable steel, painted black, due to which the building visually stands out against the landscape.

Brick: Johnson decided to use it after a trip to Poland and made it one of the important design elements. The cylinder is made of brick, deliberately protruding even above the roof, and the floors. On one side of the brick cylinder, the author provided an entrance to the bathroom, and on the other, a beautiful fireplace. The brick floor has a well-thought-out pattern, excluding even the visual separation of the room and the street.

Unlike the Farnsworth house, here the doors are located on each side of the building exactly in the center of the walls, but not all of them are intended for entry, rather, they are used for ventilation. Due to the absence of internal partitions, Glass House with an area of ​​166.6 square meters is bright and spacious.

As for the use cases, because of the glass walls, it was all in full view, but this did not prevent it from being used as a meeting place for guests, as well as an office. To emphasize the transparent lightness of the building, Johnson built a brick guest house nearby - a massive, solid structure.

Philip Johnson's The Glass House full tour video

In 1997, the Glass house was recognized as a National Historic Landmark of the United States, and in 2005, after the death of the architect Philip Johnson, it came under the protection of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house now hosts guided tours.


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