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[image via arkitrave]

New Canaan is no New York, but it IS home to Philip Johnson’s minimalist Glass House. Johnson was incredibly influential here in New York City, designing the Seagram Building, AT&T (now Sony) Building, Lincoln Center, NYU’s Bobst Library, and the Four Seasons Restaurant. Oh yeah, and those crazy columns and towers at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. (Men in Black, anyone?)

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[image via flickr]

While you could always visit the grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair, the Glass House was always private. Beginning in April, his famously transparent structure will open to the public for the first time. Johnson’s former residence, considered to be his masterpiece, is a rectangular structure with glass external walls and looks onto a pond on the scenic estate. Guided tours are pricey, at $25 a pop, but they give patrons access to four other structures on the property in addition. It probably beats all the unproductive driving around New Canaan I made my parents do when I was taking architecture classes in college. We eventually gave up, sans a sight of the site. New Canaan is about an hour’s drive from the city, and is also accessible by Metro-North.

From my two architecture classes in college, and my own personal reading, I have realized that architecture should only be understood and critiqued based on context. Building a glass house now, in 2007, is very different from building one in 1949 like Johnson did. The same goes with many other structures; it’s important to understand the when and where, as well as WHAT is going on in the world. I was obsessed with his Seagram Building (1956) in college because of its elegance and huge plaza in front. Now, “it’s just a skyscraper”, but then, it was revolutionary. Skyscrapers didn’t have big plazas in front, probably because it was a “waste” of valuable property. But, what a difference it makes, to have that space in a bustling city.

One of my favorite buildings ever, which happens to be both in Pittsburgh and Johnson’s creation is PPG Place. The glass structure makes some spectacular reflections, which sometimes look Seuss-esque with their curves. (Of course I can’t find that picture right now, which still only exists in a hard copy and not digitally) In the summer, there are fountains in front that kids run through, and in the winter, a Christmas tree and ice skating rink. Although these probably weren’t Johnson’s ideas, I love how his architecture still plays a large part in setting such a beautiful scene for events and activities.

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