About the Glass House (from our 2021 Homes Issue) – written by James McCown
In the period immediately after World War II, New Canaan was like something out of a William Hamilton cartoon in The New Yorker – affluent, conservative, WASPy, with architectural tastes that tended toward Georgian and Second Empire Victorian. When Philip Johnson, then an emerging New York architect, heard of an available five acre parcel along Ponus Ridge Road, he walked the property, and imagined a compound of modernist buildings that could serve as his weekend refuge from New York City.
It was late 1945. Johnson probably didn’t imagine that he was about to launch a revolution that would put the five acres in New Canaan on the world architecture map. He was the exception to other highly-talented architects—heir to a substantial Cleveland fortune, he had the resources and confidence to engage in his whims and caprices. Having studied under Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, he is credited with giving the modernist architectural movement its own name—the International Style. He imagined a group of buildings that would remain faithful to the minimalist aesthetics and exacting details of that style. He bought the five acre spread and slowly began adding to it, until it became 49 acres. New Canaan would never be the same.
By the time Johnson began designing the property’s centerpiece—The Glass House—two other architects of note had moved to New Canaan—Marcel Breuer and Eliot Noyes. These men would be joined by Landis Gores and John Johansen to become the iconic ‘Harvard Five’, all of them having either studied or taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
Completed in 1949, The Glass House was featured in the worldwide architectural press almost immediately. But not everyone in New Canaan was thrilled with the new notoriety of their gifted but eccentric neighbor. As The New York Times reported: “Weekend crowds have been blocking traffic on Ponus Ridge . . . uninvited visitors tramp about to view [the houses] with mingled expressions of awe, wonder and indignation. They agree that nothing like it was ever seen in these parts.”