AD Classics: The Glass House / Philip Johnson

© Creative Commons - Photo Credit: Melody Kramer

Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the House by Philip Johnson, with its perfect proportions and its simplicity, is considered one of the first most brilliant works of modern architecture. Johnson built the 47-acre estate for himself in New Canaan, . The house was the first of fourteen structures that the architect built on the property over a span of fifty years.

More on Johnson’s Glass House after the break.

Completed in 1949, the Glass House was the first design Johnson built on the property. The one-story house has a 32′x56′ open floor plan enclosed in 18-feet-wide floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass between black steel piers and stock H-beams that anchored the glass in place. The structure, however, did not impress Mies when he visited the house. It is said that the brilliant mentor to Philip Johnson stormed out in fury because of what he interpreted as a lack of thought in the details of the house.

© Creative Commons - Photo Credit: Melody Kramer

Nonetheless there are still many features that contribute to the beauty of the house. The clear glass panels create a series of lively reflections, including those of the surrounding trees, and people walking inside or outside of the house, layering them on top of one another creating everchanging images with each step taken around it.


The interior of the Glass House is completely exposed to the outdoors except for the a cylinder brick structure with the entrance to the bathroom on one side and a fireplace on the other side. The floor-to-ceiling height is ten and a half feet and the brick cylinder structure protrudes from the top. The floor is also made of red brick laid out in a herringbone pattern and is raised ten inches off of ground level. The only other divisions in the house besides the bathroom are discreetly done with low cabinets and bookshelves, making the house a single open room. This provides ventilation from all four sides flowing through the house as well as ample lighting.


Although the house is the primary attraction on the site, Johnson used the expansive land around it to allow his imagination to run and build thirteen more structures that include a guest house, an art gallery, and a sculpture pavilion. The guest house, connected to the Glass House with a stone path that lays over the expansive lawn immediately surrounding it, is a heavy brick structure, contrasting the extreme lightness and transparency expressed in the Glass House. The art gallery is buried underground in order to not take away attention from the house, making it windowless which is uncommon for a gallery. Wright’s other notable experiment on the site included a sculpture gallery which is “an assymmetrical white-brick shed with a glass roof…conceived as a series of interlocking rooms that step down around an open, central space.”

© Creative Commons - Photo Credit: Melody Kramer

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997, the Glass House is still considered a modern marvel. The beauty in its composition along with the rolling landscape have people travelling to visit and experience it firsthand everyday, and with the lines of the Glass House and the other buildings smoothly blending in with the lines of the horizon and the surrounding landscape, one can feel a breathtaking sensation of endlessness.

Architect: Philip Johnson
Location: New Canaan, Connecticut
Project Year: 1949
Photographs: Depending on the photograph: On Flickr, Melody Kramer or arZan
References: and and

If you enjoyed reading this post you might also like: The Glass House, an architectural play

Cite: Perez, Adelyn. "AD Classics: The Glass House / Philip Johnson" 17 May 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • -

    It is not talked loud but the glass house of Johnson was inspired by his trip around East Europe during II world war (he was an Nazi supporter those times). As he said it he had been impressed by burned down houses.

    Esthetically this building can be stunning however I always have a lot of doubts when I come across Johnsons works.

  • Tomás

    Doesnt even measure to farnsworth house…

  • roberto

    Mies = Master
    Johnson = Imitator

  • e. monaghan

    I had lunch there in the 80′s when an artist traded David Whitney(Phillip’s partner)a drawing for one of his cars. Phillip was in NYC that day and I absorbed and observed as much as I could. We had unlimited access then. Glass house worked well, and the hidden bathroom in the pillar was a challenging problem solved.

  • Benjamin

    “Wright’s other notable experiment on the site included a sculpture gallery…”

    Just a typo thought I’d let you’s know! FLWright has enough to his name, better not steal Johnson’s thunder as well!

  • francesco

    the most annoying un-talented wannabe in architecture history.

    • tDA

      no he’s not.
      I am.

  • Xx小小罗

    - -!这个玻璃住宅我非常喜欢,虽然我不喜欢这种极简主义,但是这个建筑从外边看上去很漂亮~~嘿嘿。。

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  • vemaybay,ve may bay

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  • Lauren Cherry

    The most shocking fact for me is how Philip Johnson was part of the original trio who began the International Style movement, which, in simplicity was the beginning of modern architecture. When he designed the Glass House, Johnson was trying to break away from what was seen as ‘normal’ at the time, and used a style that brought in the International Style into residential architecture in America. Between the materials and its integration with the surrounding landscape, I believe that Johnson created a masterpiece of purity and perfection.

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  • Alejandro

    How was Johnson influenced by the Farnsworth House? The Farnsworth House was finished in 1951 and the Glass House in 1949. Is it possible that Johnson was impressed by the Farnsworth project before the construction was finished? Maybe in Mies’ studio?

  • Jannita Bolin

    Like Mie’s Farnsworth House. the Glass House by Philip Johnson was one of example of 20th century homes that defined the

    vocabulary of Modernist architecture characterized by simplicity of form, application of modern materials and construction,

    and the idea of open plan and free facade with continuation of interior to exterior space. The Glass House was
    one of the glass architecture that suggests designer’s attempt to redefine architecture proposing an ideal world that is free of

    any historical and political context and unnecessary clutter.

    However, one could argue that through using modernist architectural language as a way to reform of the society and the way

    we perceive domestic space, modernist homes embodied
    a space that lacks consideration of the domestic life and the notion of privacy.