Philip Johnson's 1949 Glass House, in New Canaan, Conn. View of the entrance.
Blaine Brownell Philip Johnson's 1949 Glass House, in New Canaan, Conn. View of the entrance.

ARCHITECT contributor Blaine Brownell recently had the opportunity to visit two iconic architectural works in the affluent town of New Canaan, Conn. The first is Philip Johnson's Glass House, constructed in 1949 on a sprawling site as a private weekend retreat for the architect. The second is the River Building at Grace Farms, designed by Japanese firm SANAA and completed in 2015 on 80 acres of a former equestrian farm. The projects are separated by 66 years of history but only an 11-minute drive. Their proximity makes for a convenient sightseeing pairing, especially for travelers embarking on a day trip from Manhattan. Based on the works' formal and programmatic differences, their adjacency may be their only common characteristic. And so it follows that a closer comparison reveals differences in architectural purpose as well as insights about society's evolving relationship with technology and nature.

Johnson's transparent residence created quite a buzz when it was completed, just a few years after World War II. During this heady period, American society witnessed the rapid growth of modern, material industries and residential development. To most audiences, the construction of a glass-and-steel house presented a shocking vision of a future domestic realm completely lacking in privacy—a physical format more commonly associated with Modern commercial buildings than the home. In 1949, Life magazine proclaimed that the residence "consists of just one big room completely surrounded by scenery," adding that Johnson "likes to build extremely modern houses and try them out on himself."

Continue reading at for more about Brownell's experience.

Read more >