This weekend I knocked off another item “To Do While in New York” list. Christian, Melissa, and I took a trip north to New Canaan Connecticut to see The Philip Johnson Glass House. Geeky? Maybe, but not if you’re an architect. We splurged for the site tour so we could see the other buildings Johnson designed for his bachelor retreat. There were a lot of things that we never talked about in architectural history, in fact, all I really remember is the glass house.
The tour started in town at a nice little visitor center. We climbed on a bus with about eight other people and our cute little tour guide. He was an adorable old man who’s stories were great. He had so many stories of how random people, typically architecture students would show up at the house and Johnson would invite them down and show them around. He also told us that Johnson was gay, which none of us think we knew before, makes sense I guess. The bus dropped us off inside the gate that reminded me of something Michael Graves would design, and we set out on our tour of the 47 acres.
I assumed that the house was hidden in the woods, but it situated just down a hill from pretty well trafficked road. There is a tall stone wall along the road, so you would have to be pretty tall to see the house over the wall, but still visible. I will say I was a bit disappointed by the entrance and approach to the building to the site, it feels a bit cluttered and messy to me, and I understand why he designed it that way and it probably worked then exactly as he wanted and for his guests. Now the house is this architectural gem and you want see it sitting on a pristine site without all that eye
clutter relief as you come down the drive. When you come through the gate, to your left is the 1995 building that was suppose to be the visitor center, but really would never have worked as such. It is interesting but doesn’t really seem to fit with all the older pieces. As you head down the hill you are given a glimpse of the lovely natural landscape and farmers stone fences, which is really nice. But when you get closer to the house the stone wall gets higher and partial obstructs the house, it just looks odd. There is a site specific sculpture by one of my favorite artist, Donald Judd, which just adds to the clutter. The sculpture itself is beautiful. I wish it had nothing around cluttering it either. In any case I love the way the house is situated on the site with the landscape just falling away behind it with a pond and Pond Pavilion and Kirstein Tower. The front lawn is flat until the brick house then it eventually slopes up to the road. I also really like how the brick house (the guest house) is situated in relationship to the glass house. The door faces the house but the only windows are on the other side facing the road. I also like where and how the Sculpture and Painting Galleries are situated on the site and in relation to each other. I really liked the Painting Gallery. It is a grass covered mound, so all you see is the entrance and from above the circles that form the dome tops.
The interiors of all the spaces are of course phenomenal. I love stepping into spaces that haven’t really changed much in decades. The house is so clean and simple as you would expect. I find it hard to believe that by only opening the four doors, it was cool enough to sleep in during the humid summers, but apparently it was fine. Unfortunately, the brick house flooded and we could not go inside due to a major mold problem they are fixing. Again the Painting Gallery, was really interesting with its large rotating “spindles” that allow you to change the art on display. I really enjoyed the Sculpture Gallery’s glass rooftop too. They have not tried to open them in several years since birds would fly in.
After two hours on site we headed back to town where we did a bit more exploring. Before our tour we took a quick trip on the main streets. It took all of five minutes. We probably did not need to drag our bikes on Metro-North, but at least it meant we went on a little tour beyond walking distance from the train station and we found an old cemetery to bike around in. I love old cemeteries, the old stones fascinate me. After our bike ride we found a local bar/restaurant to watch the Kentucky Derby and start our Cinco de Mayo celebration. New Canaan, while cute and charming, does not have the vibes of a town that knows how to really celebrate, so we headed back to the city after the race. Although once we got back into Grand Central Station and biked to Williamsburg, we realized how tired we were and were only able to muster up the energy to eat some yummy tacos and a beer before heading home and crashing. You can check out Melissa’s post of last weeks events and the glass house here, and see why we were so tired by the time Saturday evening hit, beyond our day up state.