Room With a View

Johnson’s masterwork is less a discrete space than a lens to the landscape that surrounds it.

I first experienced the Glass House 15 years ago in an art-history class as a black-and-white photograph projected onto a wall in a dimly lit classroom for about 30 seconds. I thought it was interesting and odd—the modest, transparent box seemed provocative—but why would this architect actually want to live there, where everyone could watch him like an animal in a zoo? Little did I know that the Glass House is but one tree in an entire forest.

Scouting Philip Johnson’s property in New Canaan with the rest of the Metropolis art department this September, I discovered that it’s not really a house. “The Glass House is an experience of the nature that surrounds you,” Christy MacLear said as she showed us around, recalling her first trip inside the home. “After you are in the house, the walls seem to melt away and you are living directly with nature. You realize that this house is a dialogue between architecture and landscape.”

We immediately saw that its walls could be a lens for viewing the rest of the compound, either using the black structural skeleton as a series of frames for looking outward, or—from the outside—by capturing reflections on the glass. In assigning Eirik Johnson to photograph the landscape, we asked that he use the walls of the house to construct his views. The results show that he had the same experience. “I thought the house would simply feel like an empty space,” Eirik Johnson says, “but to the contrary, the tree branches seem to come inside.”

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