Don’t Throw Stones

Back in Colorado where we used to live, there was a house down the street – a new build – where you walked through the front door, crossed a narrow hallway, and immediately found yourself outside again on a terrace.  The design was intentional (thanks to stunning views of Pikes Peak), encouraging outdoor living as much as indoor.  It’s a design principle rooted in one of America’s most famous residences.  Welcome to New Canaan, Connecticut’s Glass House.

Imagine a classroom assignment where you’re asked to create a pizza.  You choose whatever toppings and seasonings you like, the pizza’s shape and size, and the means to bake it.  But there’s a catch: You can’t use a crust.  Somehow you’d still put it together, right?  Maybe that’s how architect Phillip Johnson approached his design of The Glass House back in 1949.  It’s got windows and doors, a roof, rooms, and furniture, just like any other house; just no walls.

Okay, The Glass House has walls, of course, but their transparency is meant to throw the concept of “house” for a major loop.

As a student of architecture, I have a love/hate relationship with The Glass House.  My first thought when I learned about it was, “I hate it.  It’s just a steel and glass box.  And everything I’d do in there would be on display for all the world to see.  Everything“.

But like important works of art, the more you study The Glass House the more you appreciate all that it has to offer.  You notice the fully open floor plan (bathroom aside), suggesting “rooms” can be defined by furniture or floor coverings, not just walls.  Its transparency invites the outdoors in (whether or not you open the glass door on each of its four sides), suggesting the experience of “home” can go well beyond the walls.  Finally, The Glass House boldly declares that less is more, meaning life in the dozen rooms of a McMansion pales in comparison to a cohesive collection of just three or four.

[Architect’s Note: “Less is more” is a famous mantra in architecture circles, coined by American architect Mies van der Rohe (of whom Phillip Johnson was a disciple).  Marie Kondo might come to mind as well.]

Am I a fan of the harsh German glasarchitektur style of The Glass House?  No.  Would I want to live in such a house?  Absolutely not.  Yet I must admit, its concept of indoor-outdoor living (which has inspired countless residential designs since) is intriguing.  It’s what makes Fallingwater such a captivating design.  Furthermore, the siting of The Glass House puts to rest any concerns I had about privacy, since it’s nestled within fifty acres of open landscape.

The Glass House, as you might expect, is in America’s National Trust for Historic Preservation, and open to visitors through guided property tours.  As the famous saying goes, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.  I’m pretty sure Phillip Johnson didn’t throw any.  After all, The Glass House was where he made his home for over fifty years.

Now for the latest on LEGO Fallingwater…


LEGO Fallingwater – Update #7  (Read how this project got started in Perfect Harmony)

Today we spent entirely “off-model” again, building up the structure you see in front.  60 pages (or 66%, or 169 minutes) into the build, this is what we have:

This week’s photo should look virtually identical to last week’s, because all I did was add layers to the “house” in front (which doesn’t look at all like a house).  The only excitement was adding that balcony jutting out in the left rear corner.

I’ve bored you again with the model update, so here’s a poetic quote instead, from Wright himself about designing Fallingwater:

“The visit to the waterfall in the woods stays with me and a domicile has taken vague shape in my mind to the music of the stream… this structure might serve to indicate that the sense of shelter… has no limitations as to form except the materials used and the methods by which they are employed…”

Tune in next Thursday as construction continues!  Now for another nod to Frank Lloyd Wright…


The last of Wright’s Prairie Style houses may have the most creative name.  “Wingspread” was designed and built in 1937 in Racine, WI for the SC Johnson family, for whom Wright also designed his more famous Johnson Wax administration building nearby.

Wingspread is a sprawling pinwheel plan, with each of its single-story arms serving a different purpose.  The central octagon is three stories high.  Wingspread is full of fireplaces (five), but more of interest is Wright’s accommodation of requests by the Johnson children.  For them he added a Juliet balcony bedroom and a crow’s nest.  Let it also be known Wright had an occasional bit of fun with his designs.  Wingspread contains a disappearing dining table and a great room clerestory ceiling inspired by the look of a teepee.

“Juliet” balcony

Wingspread has been converted into a conference center today, but is open for tours by reservation.

Some content sourced from The Glass House website, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

19 thoughts on “Don’t Throw Stones”

  1. I couldn’t live in a glass house. I need a bit of privacy. While the daytime views would be wonderful, at night the walls would turn scary dark.

    and I think the opposite would be true, “People in stone houses shouldn’t throw glass.”
    Looking forward to seeing the completed Lego.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a good point about scary-dark walls. An intruder could be right up against them and you wouldn’t even know it. My mind goes to too many bad places to trust the openness of it all. I opt for a stone house instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not familiar with this glass house. It is unique, but I’ll admit that the first thought that came to my mind was: how do you keep all that glass clean and streak-free? I wouldn’t want to live in it nor would I want to be responsible for keeping it clean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never gave it a thought, Ally, but keeping the glass clean would drive me nuts. I’d see a smudge, try to clean it, then run outside and back inside to be sure the glass was perfectly clean. I’d be buying Windex by the case at Costco. No thank you. I have a new appreciation for the relatively small windows in my own house now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These are all so interesting. The glass house would definitely give me pause, also. I would want the bedroom to at least have heavy-duty curtains, not just for privacy but so I could sleep in in the morning. And I guess it would need a solid roof for that reason. Otherwise, for the living spaces, that much glass in such an idyllic setting would work for me.

    This reminds me of friends who went to the Caribbean for their honeymoon. They had a hut with only three walls. Supposedly it was perfectly private, but I’d still feel unsure and a little unsafe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with “unsure”, “unsafe”, and heavy-duty curtains, Betsy. It’d be a constant state of mind in a house like this. I think the architect was a bit of an odd one (after all, he lived under glass for fifty years). He probably woke with the sun and never gained an appreciation for sleeping in. I’d say he missed out.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your posts are so interesting!
    In the climate I live in, there is a trade-off between windows and heat/cold mitigation! I do like to have lots of windows though – makes me feel like I am outside even when the weather prevents that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like windows too, Margy! It’s funny how we envy a house with dramatic windows yet we wouldn’t live in a glass box. There must be a breaking point with glass (ha) where you reach “too much of a good thing”. Then you feel like a lizard in a terrarium.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You reminded me of a time I stayed in a high-rise hotel in Minneapolis, Lyssy. There was a gym across the street on the same level as my room. All these people were working out right up against the windows, staring across the street at my hotel. Maybe they were lost in their playlists but it sure felt like I was under the microscope of a bunch of scientists. You must get used to that in the big city else you’d always keep your curtains closed.


    1. Another good point, Monica (besides Ally’s comment about streaky glass). Direct sun would really heat up the interior spaces. When the house was built all those years ago I’m sure they didn’t have the reflective coatings they have for windows today.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An architectural marvel, just like living in the outdoors in a way. I had a huge tree taken down outside my bay window (for fire mitigation purposes) and the sun lit up the room in the afternoon like a spotlight! I had to put up a window covering. I’m wondering what kinds of adaptation might have been needed in the glass house.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phillip Johnson (Glass House architect) strikes me as the type who wouldn’t make adaptations, in the interest of a pure design concept. He must’ve woken up with the sun, put up with hot-box summers, dealt with frequent glare, dirty glass, etc. I intend to read his biography (“The Man in the Glass House”) because I’m told his life and his personality were as eccentric as his glass-and-steel designs.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is interesting Dave and you are correct that it is doubtful most people would want to live in a glass house, especially these days with erratic weather, not to mention crime ramping up. I’d be afraid of high winds especially. We had a derecho in SE Michigan in July 1980. The sky turned green and winds were gusting at 100 miles an hour as it tore down power lines and knocked down huge trees. We were without power for a week but our house sustained no damage. The grass looked like it had been combed down. I was at work at the time, the 11th floor of an office building where I sat near the senior partner’s corner office. Lucky for him, he was off on his annual sailboat excursion to Georgian Bay, Canada because the wind velocity shatttered all the windows on both sides, throwing papers and a lifetime of mementos into the wind. His prized desk was sopping wet and damaged from the rain which came shortly thereafter and the ivory-colored carpet was similarly soaked. All we could do was gather near the office door and gawk with gaping mouths at what took a matter of seconds to wreak such damage.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My life is not orderly enough to live in a place like this. Maybe it it sat upon a 2-story basement I could make it work as a big occasionally used solarium.

    My immediate thought is what a disaster it would be for heating and cooling. And once you get that licked, the resulting condensation would make life miserable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Articles about prominent architecture conveniently leave out the inherent drawbacks of the structures (like HVAC and condensation issues). Fallingwater had its problems too (mostly structural). I think the mindset of an architect is to create a pure form and then walk away, leaving the owner to deal with the inevitable breakdowns.

      Liked by 1 person

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