Glass House Opens to Public

May 23, 2007

By Amanda Webb

When Philip Johnson’s Glass House officially opens to the public this month, it will mark the start of a new era for the iconic property. Its owner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is also hoping the property will jumpstart an aggressive new campaign to preserve Modernist architecture nationwide.

Photo: Courtesy The National Trust for Historic Preservation
Philip Johnson's Glass House under wraps during restoration work last winter.
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Visitors to the 47-acre estate, which includes 14 separate structures, will see firsthand the results of painstakingly careful preservation. The work included both handcrafted efforts, such as individually replacing leather ceiling tiles, as well as scientific analysis of mortar on the circular chimney.

The arsenal of specialists required for the building’s intensive preservation gave the Trust a unique opportunity to capture an endangered body of knowledge. Donald Kaufman, who worked with Johnson and his colleagues to create the original paint palette, helped the Trust devise an index of historical colors. “Because a lot of these people are still alive, we have the opportunity to capture a wealth of information,” observes Christy MacLear, executive director of the site.

The Trust is also using the project to develop resources for other Modernist homeowners. Documentation of on-site repairs, such as those to the flat roof, will be made available online. Ultimately, its goal with the project is to have an impact beyond just this property. “We want to become a centerpoint and a catalyst for Modern preservation,” MacLear says. To this end, the Trust received funding for a survey of 90 Modernist houses in the surrounding town of New Canaan, Connecticut. Part of a campaign called “Preserve the Modern,” MacLear says, the survey will help the Trust create a new landmarking rubric for Modern architecture.

Other structures at the Glass House estate, such as the Brick House, were also restored. Although the Trust began giving private tours of the property in May for fundraising purposes, a gala picnic on June 23 marks its opening to the general public. Fittingly, the event features a restaging of Merce Cunningham’s dance performance given when the house was finished in 1967.

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