December 7, 2006
Two years after Philip Johnson’s death, his Glass House will open to the public for the first time this spring. The New Canaan estate, run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, promises to serve as a living landmark by housing a progressive cultural institution, as well.
Occupying over 47 acres and totaling a dozen structures including galleries, sculptures, follies, and the Glass House itself, the estate stands as a timeline of sorts for Johnson’s life and influences. “In its day, the Glass House was a nexus for architects, artists, and writers,” explains Christy MacLear, the site’s executive director. “We want to recreate that through the opening.”
To realize that goal, the Glass House will sponsor high-profile programs and publications, as well as residential fellowships beginning in 2008. MacLear particularly hopes the residency can revive the cooperative atmosphere the estate fostered in years past, when cultural heavyweights like Andy Warhol, Fran Liebowitz, and Vincent Scully were frequent guests; works on the site were inspired by the camaraderie and input of Johnson’s contemporaries, such as the “Ghost House,” a faux edifice built entirely from chain-link fence in 1985, which stands as a tribute to Johnson’s friend Frank Gehry. In that spirit, fellowship participants will range from artists to industrial designers, and will work for six to eight months on individual projects.
Before fans and fellows can visit, major repairs need to be completed on areas such as the roof and brick foundation of the Glass House, which fell into disrepair during Johnson’s final years. Eight of the structures will be open to the public, with the first tours starting in April to select donors. The estate will be open annually from April through October.
This is the second modern masterpiece to enter the Trust’s portfolio, after the Farnsworth House, allowing for more of the general public to appreciate the work of the era. The imprimatur of the popular National Trust also secures mid-century architecture’s place as history deserving to be saved. “It’s exciting,” MacLear says. “We get to introduce the importance of preservation to a whole new audience.”