Philip Johnson’s Glass House

Recently, I had the great pleasure of photographing Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.  For those of you who don’t know the house, architecturally it’s one of the most important modern residences in the country, along with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.  For more on The Glass House, click here.

It had been a gloomy, drizzly morning the day I was scheduled to do the shoot, and the forecast was not promising.  But about an hour before I drove to the site, the skies cleared and the sun came out – a beautiful New England fall afternoon.

The house is really a simple glass box – and yet very elegant in its simplicity.  The design is in part about connecting with the landscape environment around the house. I tried to keep this in mind as I was shooting – many of the images are as much about the trees, grass and sky as they are about the building.

When it was new, the house was radically different.  Some people who visit the house react to the rather impractical aspects of living in a glass box.  The architecture critic Paul Goldberger tells the story of a woman coming to visit the house while Johnson was there. After looking about, she said rather snottily, “Well, it may be very beautiful, but I certainly couldn’t live here.”  “I haven’t asked you to, Madam,” Johnson replied.

The house was built in 1948-1949. Johnson lived in it until his death, at 98, in 2005.  Over that time, he added other fascinating buildings to the property and made many changes in the landscaping. He called his home his “fifty year diary.”

Johnson said to some visitors, “Shut up and look around.”  This is good advice.  During the shoot, I had the house all to myself, inside and out.  Much of the time, I just stood quietly and enjoyed the design and the surroundings.  I’d walk around and marvel at how the house looked from different angles.  I could happily have shot this simple glass box for several days. 

As the light was fading in the late afternoon, I shot a few images with a super-wide angle lens, which greatly distorts the perspective. One of the images with that lens is below. I like to think that Johnson, who had a  great appreciation for sculpture, would have approved of the picture.

16 Responses to “Philip Johnson’s Glass House”

  1. October 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Wow! Incredible. I also love the fall colors all around.

  2. October 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    thanks, Maggy. you should go see the house sometime – it’s pretty spectacular. but you wouldn’t like the kitchen!

  3. October 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I was intrigued by Maggy’s tweet, so I clicked and here I am. Now I know I have to see the glass house, and now I know you need to come to see our house in PA.
    With rain in the forecast, I’m so glad you got a gorgeous day to shoot. Very, very nice work. Stunning actually.

  4. October 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    PS. I forgot to ask. Where’s the bathroom, the kitchen, and the bedroom?

    • October 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      thanks so much, Pam. Please do go see the house and the property. it’s amazing. You have to get tickets ahead of time. If you can see the brick cylinder in the house, that has a small bathroom in it and a fireplace on the other side. the rest of the house is one big room. the kitchen is to the left as you come in. it is not up to your standards! Johnson had a lot of parties there – I’m guessing all catered.

  5. October 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    part two

    I wonder why I had to “approve” Maggy’s comment but not Pam’s. hmmm…

  6. 7 Pinky Haydock
    October 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Blake, these shots are truly lovely. With the fall colors and light, the house and grounds look better than when I went to see it in person! But you do magical things with your lens. Pinky

  7. 9 Neal Campbell
    October 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Gorgeous, Blake! I’ve known of this house since I was in high school and have yet to see it and I drive through New Canaan almost daily to get to StL!! I MUST fix that. And I still want to find a time to pick your brain about photo things, digital camera, etc. But the camera on my new BlackBerry is not too bad as phone cameras go. Thnx for the post. Neal

    • October 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks so much, Neal. You should really book the tour, the only way to see the house. It’s very well done. Good to book ahead of time as they sell out. Happy to talk photography anytime that’s good for you! Blessings, Blake

  8. October 22, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Hi Blake:

    Just brought-up and studied your latest web-site offerings! Really and truly enjoyed each of them; you certainly move into various “modes” , such as portraits of models, kids, adults, etc., each with natural and striking results!

    Been running around alot, and off again Sunday–after church–for most of the week uncovering opportunities in Western NYS.

    Best, BB

  9. October 22, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Hi Blake:

    Just brought-up and studied your latest web-site offerings! Really and truly enjoyed each of them; you certainly move into various “modes” , such as portraits of models, kids, adults, etc., each with natural and striking results! I continue to admire with “awe” your talents..

  10. 13 David Anderson
    October 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Beautiful–magazine-quality–shots of that place, Blake. Can’t believe you got a private opportunity to photograph. Keep shootin’

  11. October 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Blake: Bravo! Judy and I spent part of a beautiful day there just before your opening.

    I have always been inspired by modern architecture, the glass house began the birth of modern architecture. Your photos capture the purity of form.

    Tom Rupnicki
    Judy Fowler

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