Philip Johnson’s Glass House: Diary Of An Eccentric Architect

The Glass House
The Glass House | © Peter Aaron
Katherine Schweizer

Set in the rolling hills of New Canaan, Connecticut, Philip Johnson’s Glass House is one of the world’s most celebrated works of architectural modernism. This historic house museum contains a simplicity and purity of form that is unparalleled in domestic architecture. As a critic and a practitioner, Johnson remained at the forefront of his field, introducing new styles of building and new ways of understanding architecture as art. The Glass House is no exception.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906, Philip Johnson was one of the most vital figures in the history of modern American architecture. Before he was an architect, Johnson studied classics and philosophy at Harvard University. After graduating in 1930, he traveled across Europe, where he encountered the radical designs of Mies van der Rohe, Gropius, Oud, and Le Corbusier.

La Villa Savoye

When he returned to the United States, Johnson was appointed Director of the architectural department of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. With the help of his colleague, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Johnson created his first exhibition – a review of European architecture of the previous decade. Together, Hitchcock and Johnson published The International Style: Architecture Since 1922. The show turned out to be highly influential, and the book soon became a standard text in the education of American architects.

In 1939, Johnson returned to Harvard’s School of Design to pursue a degree in architecture. Some of the buildings he designed include an annex for the Museum of Modern Art, the Seagram Building in New York, and the Epidemiology and Public Health Building at Yale. In addition to the buildings he designed, Johnson influenced the architectural profession through his lectures, writings, and teaching activities.

Philip Johnson’s Glass House is an estate of 16 buildings, structures, and objects situated on 40 acres of land. Understood to encompass the original buildings of 1949 and everything Johnson added afterward, the Glass House can be described as “the diary of an eccentric architect,” in the words of Johnson himself. Like a diary, the Glass House reflects Johnson’s stylistic changes over nearly five decades of practice, from modernism to formalism to postmodernism and beyond.

The Glass House

The Glass House itself is a rectangular prism measuring 32 feet wide by 56 feet long with a height of 10.5 feet. The design is simple: an open plan interrupted only by a circular brick bathroom – the only structure in the house reaching from floor to ceiling – and a long line of cabinets that contain the kitchen. Low cabinets and bookshelves serve as area dividers, and ventilation provided by floor-to-ceiling doors on all sides can be opened to the four winds. The house’s walls consist solely of 18-feet-wide floor-to-ceiling plate-glass sheets that create a series of lively reflections from surrounding trees and people walking inside or outside of the house.

Although the Glass House is the primary attraction on the site, Johnson used the vast landscape around it to allow his imagination to run wild, building several more structures including a guesthouse, a swimming pool, an art gallery, and more. Located about 80 feet to the southeast of the Glass House is the Guest House, also known as the Brick House. This building is also a low rectangular prism that measures 18 feet by 52 feet and, as the name suggests, it is made out of brick and only has three large circular windows on the east, contrasting the extreme lightness and transparency expressed in the Glass House. Just north of the Glass House and the Guest House lies a circular swimming pool 32 feet in diameter. Installed in 1955, this circular pool adds balance between the rigid structures of the Glass and Guest House. Johnson later designed a gallery in 1965 to contain his painting collection. The art gallery is built into a grassy hill northeast of the Glass House. From the outside, the gallery appears to be a large mound of grass.

Grainger, purchased in 1990 by Johnson’s partner, David Whitney, was often used as a hot weather retreat. The building had both air conditioning and an early Pioneer flat-screen TV, but no bathroom. It became the couple’s version of a man cave. Whitney added a peony garden in 1991, containing ten tree peonies, 41 peonies, and 25 irises.


Johnson garnered national significance in landscape architecture because of his gardens and other environmental designs. He believed that the landscape was just as important as the structures he built. Johnson valued the order and control of the Glass House, but he also valued the romantic nature of the fields and woods that surrounded the house.

Thus a series of informal paths connect the houses, pond, and galleries. The path leading to the galleries has two distinguished features: a narrow arched steel-plate footbridge crossing a drainage ditch, and a timber observation platform.

Johnson claimed that he wanted to capture a faint sense of danger in his work. This claim is apparent in both the footbridge and the observation platform, because neither have railings. In addition, the observation platform lacks any visible support as it extends over the meadow.


In 1986, Philip Johnson donated his estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with the agreement that it would be opened to the public after his death. Today, you can visit the Glass House from May 1st through November 30th to learn more about his life and work.
The Glass House, 199 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT, USA +1 203 594 9884

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article