First Person

Johnson was a legendary tastemaker and power broker whose web of influence spanned nearly seven decades. He and his longtime companion, David Whitney, used their bucolic estate as the locus of a far-flung network of friends, colleagues, and cultural luminaries. We asked some of them to share memories of the Glass House. Their stories appear below.

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David Childs
I remember well Philip talking about his relationship with Mies van der Rohe. As we were walking around the Glass House one day, I said, “Well, you know, this is really wonderful, but I don’t under­stand how you used these particular corner pieces.” “Well, you know,” he said with an impish grin, “Mies always was mad at me about that.” I asked, “What do you mean?” And he went on about how Mies couldn’t even bear to go back out there after a while because it so upset him that Philip didn’t know how to take those H-shaped columns and attach them to the top and bottom of the house as it turned the corner. Rather than being chagrined and embarrassed, it was Philip’s favorite story. —as told to Belinda Lanks

Robert A. M. Stern
Philip was so enamored of Andy Warhol. He said, “You know, Andy has the greatest idea.” Philip was working on the Washington Square campus of NYU, and there was a street that comes down—I think it’s Washington Square East—to basically a dead end. Philip said, “I don’t know how to terminate that axis!” And Andy said, “Well, Philip, why don’t you just do a giant stop sign?” Philip thought that was just the greatest thing he’d ever heard. —as told to Belinda Lanks

Terence Riley
I remember having lunch there with Philip and David, John Bennett, Peter Eisenman, and his son Sam, who was about six years old at the time. After eating in the house, we moved outside to sit and talk by the pool. Sam had gone into the guesthouse to put on a bathing suit, and as we were talking he walked out of the guesthouse completely naked and—as only a child could do—sauntered unself-consciously across the lawn to the Glass House. Reaching up, he pulled the door open, went inside, and disappeared into the bathroom. The simple and graceful theatricality of the episode—like a Muybridge movement study—left us sort of speechless. Where I had always thought of the Glass House as a place for grown-ups—architecture, philosophy, gossip over cocktails—it suddenly and momentarily appeared as a child’s playhouse in the Garden of Eden. The unexpected appearance of innocence and nakedness—it really couldn’t have been staged—suggested its own inescapable metaphor for the Glass House: a naked house, a house with no clothes. —as told to Belinda Lanks

Barry Bergdoll
I had never been to the house, even though everybody in the world had. It was on the occasion of the 1994 Frank Lloyd Wright symposium. There was a big dinner, and somebody said, “When you’re in the Glass House this, that, and the other”—and I said, rather loudly, “Oh, I’ve never seen it.” Since Philip Johnson was sitting across from me, he said, “Well, why don’t you come tomorrow?” It snowed overnight, and we were received just as he was finishing lunch. He was already a bit frail by that point. We had a long conversation with him, and then he handed us a ring of keys and two pairs of galoshes. Then he left, closed the door of the Glass House, and said, “Just put the keys on the table when you come back. I’m going for a nap.” David wasn’t there, so the place is completely empty, and we’re on the other side of the hill looking back at the house. There was only one thing on the table, a grapefruit in a transparent bowl. You could see it a mile away. It was this white landscape, glass cube, and this yellow spot, almost like the sun in the middle of the house. —as told to Michael Silverberg

Christopher Makos
I remember Andy [Warhol] remarking on how there was no place to hang art. That’s why they had a gallery with paintings on those rollaway things: you had to come up with a unique system if you had no wall space to hang art on. It’s funny because both Philip and David loved art and collected it, but I guess the two things were separate. Maybe Philip thought of the house as a piece of art, a sculpture, so it didn’t need anything else. They built a house just for art, and then they built a house just for people. Maybe Philip was like that, he believed that you don’t have your salad and your piece of meat on the same plate. —as told to Belinda Lanks

Paul Goldberger
I went back over the years a number of times. I remember being there for the New York Times to cover a party that Johnson agreed to give for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Glass House as a benefit for the Architectural League, and it was a picnic on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The event ended with the cutting of a big cake, naturally enough in the shape of the Glass House. Of all the various architectural cakes that have been made, it was probably one of the easiest. Johnson tasted the icing and expressed disappointment that the black trim marking the steel frame of the Glass House was not licorice. Then he cut it, and I remember his looking up and saying, “I hope you’ll all come again for the fiftieth.” —as told to Michael Silverberg

Marty Skrelunas
Mr. Johnson never really painted or altered this building. He saw it as a barn and treated it as a barn. In fact he used to want us to clean it only once or twice a year, so the building would get filled with leaves because the louvers were traditionally open to help cool the space. When visiting this building he would walk down the steps, and I would assist him a bit, holding his belt. —as told to Kristi Cameron

Richard Meier
I remember going up with Jim Stirling to see the Sculpture Gallery because Philip always used to tell me that Stirling had been the inspiration for that building. Stirling saw it and said, “This has nothing to do with me!” —as told to Belinda Lanks

Phyllis Lambert
Mies had already designed the Farns­worth House by 1945, but it wasn’t completed until after Philip finished his Glass House in New Canaan. So there was always a certain amount of tension between them. In fact once when they were experimenting with the lighting on the Glass House, Mies said it looked like a hot-dog stand. Anyway one evening we were all at the house talking about architecture. We were always talking about architecture. And at one point Philip said in a very flip way—everybody had been drinking a bit—“Mies, what’s so important about Berlage? Why do you like him so much?” Hendrik Berlage had done the Commodities Exchange in Amsterdam—a great brick building—and Mies just loved well-built structures. Mies blew up. He got so furious. There was always this underlying tension—I think he thought Philip was a bit superficial—and Mies left, and I’m not sure he ever went back. —as told to Martin C. Pedersen

Vincent Scully
I saw it first in 1948. My dissertation advisor was Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and he brought me and my family down to see Johnson while I was writing it. Johnson was in the Glass House—the glass wasn’t up yet—and he was working there. Marcel Breuer was with him. The previous summer I had asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design me a house. I had some drawings with me—I later sent them back to Wright because I couldn’t afford the house—so I showed them to Johnson. I don’t remember what he said, but Breuer said, “Oh yes, Frank Lloyd Wright, he did a few interesting things around 1910.” And I thought, “So much for you!” and laughed. —as told to Martin C. Pedersen

Hilary Lewis
I recall arriving for one of our meetings on a sunny morning and finding Philip perusing a volume of philosophy outdoors, seated in a Bertoia chair at his favorite spot, looking west toward the pond and the forest beyond. I inquired about the book, and he responded somewhat sheepishly that he was reading Cicero—but merely in translation. Not being able to make out the cover, I prodded him on the title. “De Senectute,” Philip answered, and then paused, waiting to see if I had gathered the obvious. “On Old Age,” he chuckled. “It’s about time.”

Alan Ritchie
It was very casual up at the Glass House, very much “Go ahead and help yourself.” One time we were entertaining AT&T, and somebody brought the ice bucket out and it spilled. There was ice all over the floor. Philip said, “Ice doesn’t get dirty,” picked up a cube, and plopped it in his drink. —as told to Martin C. Pedersen

Agnes Gund
David, Philip, my husband, and Jasper Johns were there after Philip had finished Da Monsta. Everybody was laughing and talking while I was taking pictures of the building. Philip was telling us how he thought it up, how he named it, and why he liked it so much, and I caught these terrific pictures of them standing in front of it doubled up laughing. And I thought this building has this sort of joy about it that they were experiencing out there that day. The Glass House will never be the same without Philip and David there. They were the heart of it. —as told to Belinda Lanks

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