Last fall a friend and I took a tour of The Glass House in Connecticut. It was a great suggestion on her part because it was located equidistantly between us, about an hour’s drive northeast for me and southwest for her. She booked us tours ahead of time. Designed by architect Philip Johnson and located on what was his private property until he died in 2005, The Glass House can only be accessed through guided tours.
We met up for lunch at a cute café, opting to sit at a table outside. It was a short walk to the building where the tour began. The guide started by showing our group a wall of photos from Johnson’s life and talking about his beginnings and influences. We then hopped on a shuttle to take us to the actual property.
The entrance was imposing. The guide discussed Johnson’s sense of humor; the gates resembled a guillotine or tombstones and rose far above us in a manner that could be considered menacing, yet they didn’t really block access to the grounds. One could in theory just walk around them, as they weren’t connected to a fence.
The two-hour walking tour was much more than The Glass House itself. On our walk to the house, the guide showed us other buildings on the property, all designed by Johnson—Da Monsta, his studio, the Ghost House, the Sculpture Gallery (yes, there was a gallery on the grounds—he had money to spend)– and spoke about his design choices, not only for the buildings, but also for the placement of paths and trees and walls. The property was created with its relation to nature and visitors’ experiences in mind.
A path on the grounds
Do you see the Ghost House below?
The Sculpture Gallery, sculptures temporarily hidden away in boxes
It so happened that we were there in the year of two anniversaries—the tenth year since The Glass House opened to the public and 110 years since Johnson’s birth. To celebrate these milestones, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had been commissioned to create several works on the property. She plastered red dots all over the transparent house, placed 1,300 silver spheres to float on the lake below, and created a large steel pumpkin that sat a short distance from the house. She likes circles and pumpkins. The tour guide told us that Kusama is the most popular female artist in the world (determined by number of visitors to her exhibitions).
At first I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t see the house in its standard state, all glass and striking to the eye. After hearing about Kusama and actually seeing and standing inside the house, however, I appreciated the dots, which I found joyful and whimsical. The structure was as striking and fascinating as ever.
Johnson used The Glass House as his summer home and for entertaining. It would have been too cold in the winter.
What it must have been like to attend a party there.
It was a perfect day. My friend and I both have an art history background, and one of my favorite classes in college was Intro to Architecture. (I also took an Architectural Design class that kicked my a**, but that’s a story for another day. It was enjoyable but kept me up all night bent over foam boards while gripping a box cutter.) The tour was like being in school again, learning with visual aids and asking questions of someone who could answer them. Not to mention that in this case most of our “class” was outside on a beautiful fall day with the most moderate of temperatures.
The Glass House is closed for the winter and will reopen on May 1.