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.