The Inside Man
Tucked away in a corner of Southwest Connecticut is one man’s retreat and symbol of the independent spirit. No one would dream of calling Phillip Johnson an outsider architect, yet his Glass House in New Canaan was an attempt to create balance from the daily lunches at the Four Seasons and the harried business in the city. Or was it?
Everyone knows of Phillip Johnson. Up until his death, at age 98, he was the consummate insider. Witty, wealthy, and connected, he created a career around knowing the right people at the right time. Straddling many decades and corresponding to the prevailing architectural style of the day, his portfolio is a visual zeitgeist and three-dimensional review of who he was currently courting. His innate reverence created, among many others, the Glass House, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, and the Sony (nee AT+T) building. Flighty? Possibly. Trendy? By all means. Talented? To be sure. The man who gets credit for formalizing Modernism and preaching Post-Modernism, was also the back-room matchmaker for three generations of architects. He was like the Kevin Bacon of 20th century art and design, but 5 degrees of separation closer. Whether you knew him, wanted to know him, or wished that you had never met him, he had a connection to everyone.
True to his Miesian roots, his compound in Connecticut followed this same ethos. He could not really retreat into the woods. He went to New Canaan because a group of his friends were already buying property up there. He couldn’t just build a simple weekend home, he built a series of “follies” that continued a noisy dialogue long after he went back into the city. His famed painting collection was safely entombed underground. His sculptures were placed in a modern-day Greek Temple. His house – the famous house – has no walls. He turned his desire for escape into a stage. What is inside is now outside, for all to see and celebrate. We know of the Glass House not through Johnson’s personal musings, but through the many, many stories of his guests. His friends. His mentors. His disciples. His people. The cult of personality turned the inside man out.
And now, we take trains up to New Canaan and walk circles around the house snapping digital stories and posting them on blogs. Good on you PJ, you’re still the perfect host.