Though the state may not be thought of as a cultural epicenter, Connecticut is home to a number of architectural masterpieces. In western Connecticut in particular, the architectural tourist can find dozens of modernist homes, both experimental and functional. The most famous of them all may be Philip Johnson's Glass House, built in 1949 as Johnson's own residence in New Canaan, CT.
Johnson, born in 1906 in Ohio, is often lumped in with such masters as Mies van der Rohe and Louis I. Kahn, and the influence of those two architects is clear in the 47-acre Glass House estate. Indeed, the centerpiece of the campus is based off Mies's Farnsworth House--while Johnson was sifting through Mies's work in preparation for an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Johnson was inspired to build his own residence using the plate glass that Mies and the other Modernists popularized in the first half of the 20th century.
Despite Johnson's having failed to produce a large number of internationally-recognized public projects, the Glass House serves as an icon of mid-century modern architecture. Less well-known, however, are the other buildings, sculptures, and monuments that dot the Glass House landscape.
I found Johnson's Kirstein monument (named after his friend, the writer, art collector, and Balanchine patron Lincoln Kirstein) and the "pavilion," a small (5 foot tall) structure based on Lincoln Center's design, to be particularly notable. The Kirstein monument includes stairs so that the viewer can climb to the top of the tower. The pavilion similarly was intended for adults and children to play on. Though the surroundings may look wild at first glance, Johnson meticulously engineered the land in order to create an idealized version of the chiefly English concept of a wild, picturesque landscape. Different patches of mown versus tall grasses and precisely planted stands of trees and bushes add variety to what was a dense wood when Johnson bought the property over 60 years ago.
The famously spare interior of the Glass House leaves the visitor wondering how Johnson accomplished day-to-day tasks like cooking, laundry, and working on architectural plans. A separate structure down the hill from the Glass House served as Johnson's studio and library when he stayed in New Canaan. (He often spent the week in New York City, returning to the Glass House for weekends.) The tour guide assured us that Johnson's small kitchen was intended for martinis only.
Naturally, a house in the style of the Glass House could only be successful on a large plot of land--few partitions or shelves exist inside the house to shield inhabitants from the neighbors and the street.
Even Johnson, however, sought to enclose the bathroom from the landscape.