Every creator has one work from his/her repertoire that stands the test of time, and for Philip Johnson, it is the Glass House. People are fascinated by this architect's magnum opus, the piece that he is most famous for, the literal window into his soul and life. I too, was curious about the man who could build a structure that invited (and displayed) all the elements to shine through, so last weekend, I ventured to New Canaan, Connecticut to visit the 50-acre property where he made his home.
It was everything I thought it would be, and it is quite evident from my photographs above how much of the tour's focus was held towards this particular building. But I actually wished that we had seen more of the Brick House, which unfortunately was undergoing maintenance due to a mold outbreak from a prior storm leak, and thus was closed to the public on that particular day. While the Glass House stood in the light, visible from all angles with nothing to hide, its counterpart was stoic, silent, and dark. In the same way, the former was very clean, simple, and minimal, almost as if it was putting on a show of utmost perfection. The images I saw of The Brick House showed it to be comfortable and plush, and we learned that it was where Philip Johnson retreated to when he needed to be alone and in peace.
This made me think about the notion of privacy, and how much of ourselves we are willing to give to the public, especially when our occupations demand of it. As a member of the Harvard Five, a friend of Andy Warhol, and the partner of David Whitney, being Philip Johnson meant that you were always surrounded by acquaintances, colleagues, supporters, and sycophants. It also meant that sometimes the attention was overwhelming, and you needed a place where you could be yourself without judgment.
Solitude is a funny thing, because it is both an act of self-preservation and an act of selfishness. What is even more ironic is when you are a person who craves solitude, but not when it is displayed towards you. How do you reconcile wanting to get to know someone more, getting hurt when they don't reciprocate, but also not being able to share some of yourself because you have these walls up? What kind of dance are we doing then?
For some of us, this is not anything we can figure out. So we remain in a strange limbo of awareness and inaction. But Philip Johnson was both extremes, so he built two different spaces that he could be in when that particular side of his personality came out. He was both public and private. He was two people in one body. So maybe that is how we deal with it. Depending on who we are with and what environment we are in, we act in only one way. And something will always be missing because you won't be 100% there all the time. That is the sacrifice we choose to make.