Philip Johnson’s Glass House Essay

TheGlass Houseis a canonical illustration of high modernist architecture and interior design. The walls are made of plate glass. enveloping the construction while retaining a complete 360-degree position of the belongings outside. From the exterior. one gets a free position into the inside every bit good. The interior itself is sparsely but carefully furnished in the characteristic high modernist manner.

Johnson’sGlass Housecaptured a great trade of attending when first built. It is still widely hailed as a high modernist chef-d’oeuvre and is on a regular basis included in studies of modern architecture. At the same clip that Johnson’s house is celebrated as great architecture. it is sneered at for being unliveable. Despite its art-historical significance. theGlass Houseis thought by most to be unliveable non needfully because it is aesthetically displeasing. but because it subordinates all other ends to this aesthetic pleasance.

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It may believe of the inside of theGlass Houseas ugly. it is possibly because the attraction of an interior depends on non merely on ocular spectacle but besides perceived livability. TheGlass Housedeficiencies what we judge today as livability: comfort. familiarity. and a certain grade of dowdy acquaintance. The edifice serves more to do an aesthetic point or an art-historical splash. and these motives turn out here to be separate from the more everyday pleasances of domestic life.

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At first glimpse. theGlass Houseseems to be really much a work of environmental art. Surrounded by glass walls. the resident is immersed in. though non physically capable to. the switching atmospheric conditions of the out-of-doorss. Possibly no other house allows the resident a more intimate sense of its natural milieus. But is this what is meant by an environmental aesthetic of domestic infinite? A basic principle of any introductory interior design class is that the function of interior design is to supply artistically fulfilling and practically effectual solutions to the organisation of the environments in which we must make peculiar things. like cooking. entertaining. kiping. bathing. and lounging.

The art of domestic pattern while at the same clip doing the environment worthy of aesthetic attending and esteem. In this position. theGlass Housefails as fully fledged interior design ( that is. an environmental art ) because it ne’er recedes into the background. ne’er becomes an environment for patterns of mundane life. The glass walls render the occupant perpetually self-aware of being watched ; the spareness of the trappingss and the utmost methodicalness of the house. where even table-top knickknacks are discreetly marked with indicants of their right location. mean that one can ne’er experience genuinely at place.

TheGlass Housecontradicts the long-standing Western association of brooding with enclosure. privateness. and relaxation. As these inclinations are profoundly entrenched. one can ne’er acquire used to theGlass Houseand so can ne’er genuinely inhabit it. But what a telling failure it is! It is my contention that to truly understand what it takes to populate in theGlass Housewill convey us a long manner in understanding how it is that theordinaryprocedure of populating our places is an artistic pattern. a sort of environmental art.

On the conventional position of interior design sketched supra. to truly in wont theGlass Housewould necessitate that one “fix” it by adding some suites off the dorsum. walling in some of the home base glass. and presenting more furniture and jumble. But so. the edifice would no longer be theGlass House. the work of art designed by Philip Johnson. In order to populate in a work art. one must esteem it as a intentional merchandise. that is. one must populate harmonizing to its regulations.

This means non traveling the furniture or adding objects. lest the composing be destroyed. It besides means doing certain that muss and jumble do non take over such that we can no longer see the original artistic creative activity. The respectful resident must be a conservator of kinds. continuing the house while populating in it. This is clearly a hard manner to populate! However. it is possible to populate theGlass House. but evidently one must be a particular kind of individual that I shall term a “radical aesthetic. ”

It is uncovering that Johnson did non suggest the house as a cosmopolitan theoretical account of “true life. ” As he famously retorted to one visitant who expressed her antipathy to life in it. Johnson did non plan the house for anyone but himself. Johnson seem to incarnate this extremist aestheticism: he gives to the hunt for aesthetic pleasance more importance than most people and is absolutely satisfied to populate in ways that others perceive as awfully uncomfortable. even cold.

In another of his celebrated epigrams. Johnson says that “comfort is a map of whether you think a chair is fine-looking or non. Therefore. we can presume that Johnson does non see theGlass Houseas uncomfortable. Rather. we should believe that Johnson inhabits the house in perfect harmoniousness with its terrible regulations. which. after all. are presumptively his ain. Johnson ne’er feels compelled to drag in a bookcase or a dumpy chair found at a tag sale. go forth his apparels on the floor or allow dishes stack up in the kitchen sink for yearss.

But possibly Johnson does non trulyunrecordedin theGlass Houseas most people live in their houses. After all. theGlass Houseis non his primary abode. It has ever been more of a weekend retreat from New York. There are legion outbuildings on the belongings. likely functioning to capture the predictable flood of “stuff” from the architectural chef-d’oeuvre. Possibly Johnson merely pretended to love in theGlass Housein order to do an aesthetic point or to advance himself as an designer.

On this position. theGlass Houseremains half phase set. half hotel room. Was this an accurate representation of his purposes. Johnson’s aestheticism would be posing. For my intents. it barely matters whether Johnson is truly the extremist aesthetic that he makes himself out to be. It is possible to conceive of how he would hold to populate were he to populate in the house as it was supposed to be lived in. that is. to populate in it in a manner that respects it as art. We can still chalk out out the domestic pattern of this particular individual – a confining instance of kinds – to assist explicate how life in a house on a day-to-day footing can be seen as an environmental art.

Possibly theGlass Houseis unliveable as a domestic infinite ; but as a work of all right art. theGlass Housedoes precisely what it is supposed to make. viz. . to polish and escalate experiences already available to us in mundane life. Though the badness of theGlass Housewill strike many as perverse. I will reason that it is merely an highly refined version of what any sensitive housewife creates.

TheGlass Househelps us to see what I term the art of domesticity. The art of domesticity means non merely that the house is art. but that the very manner of life in it is besides an art. made and refashion on a day-to-day footing. As we shall see. these two humanistic disciplines. doing and life. are connected. Along with the of import care-work that frequently characterizes domestic duties. this is what I take to be the echt significance of the termhomemaking.

The successful resident of theGlass Houseor any other pristine. terrible. and hyper organized environment lives in the house in perfect harmoniousness with its formal constellation and artistic significance. On a day-to-day footing. one achieves this harmoniousness by developing a repertory of wonts that at the same time achieves two things: foremost. it allows one to make everything one usually does in a place: 2nd. our wonts guarantee that we ever do these things in a manner that respects and reflects the artistic unity of the infinite.


Berleant. A. . & A ; Carlson. A. ( 2007 ) .The Aesthetics of Human Environments. New York: Broadview Press.

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