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.
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”.