Reflecting Johnson

Philip Johnson was a celebrity architect. A star.

David McCabe took this photo at the Glass House in 1964. The chaps perched awkwardly on the Mies van der Rohe chairs. What fun.

Scheming, chatting, schmoozing.

| Andy Warhol, David Whitney, Philip Johnson, John Dalton, and Robert Stern in the Glass House in 1964. Photo by David McCabe |

In an a great 2007 article from the New York Times, Christoper Mason documents Glass House life.

FRANK STELLA, artist. I really was taken with it. It was the most level space I’ve ever been in. The feeling of calm and stability you had when you put your feet down on the floor was just wonderful. It gave the lie to the idea that the world rotates and everything is in motion.

PORT DRAPER, engineer responsible for building and maintaining all structures on the property, starting in 1968. I walked up to the Glass House, I took one look and said, “Oh my God, I could never live in anything else.” I went home and tore all the walls out of my house. That house is so wonderful to live in. People don’t have a clue how wonderful it is.

MR STELLA, artist. I have no reason to believe that there were ever any challenges for Philip living in the Glass House. It was always other people who worried about how they might live there. Philip didn’t have a problem.

MR DRAPER  Johnson never complained. He always assumed that everything he built there was so oddball, there were bound to be problems. But everything was fun. If things didn’t turn out right he never said anything about it. Because that wouldn’t have been fun. Johnson came out to that house every weekend for only one reason: to have fun. And he was the most fun person I ever worked for.

ROBERT A M STERN, dean, Yale School of Architecture. He told me that a year or two after the house was built they had to rip off the roof because it leaked. Frank Lloyd Wright boasted that a house of his was a “two-bucket house.” Philip said: “Oh, that’s nothing, Frank. Mine’s a four-bucket house. One in each corner.”

JASPER JOHNS, artist. One of the first times I visited him there I said, “Philip, it’s so incredible that you’ve found this location for your house, because you’re not aware of being in it, you’re just aware of this incredible landscape.” Philip said, “Yes, I was very fortunate.” And then he said, “David, I think next year we’ll put those trees over there.” And I suddenly had an insight into how he thought.

AGNES GUND, president emerita, Museum of Modern Art. It was very serene — a lyrical, quiet place in beautiful surroundings. The only thing that changed was the weather and the time of day. You began to count on it. I always felt very happy there. I felt luckier and luckier to get asked.

MR DRAPER The work never stopped. We were either moving rocks or changing the landscaping or fixing up the Glass House. Over the years we built a new bathroom in there, we put in a new floor when the heating pipes rotted out and all new cabinetwork because the termites ate up all the old cabinets.

BARBARA HARTMAN, Mr. Johnson’s administrative assistant from 2000 to 2003. He loved how the “wallpaper” changed all the time, by which he meant the outdoors. It was never the same.

FRANK GEHRY, architect. They dressed for the occasion. It made sense: their activity, their dress, the room and the site, it all had a symbiotic relationship that was uncanny. It was grand and generous and eloquent, and all of a piece. And it wasn’t claustrophobic — you felt good being there. The discussion, the building. I miss it. I miss them very much.

MR DRAPER One night a branch blew through one of the windows and then blew through another one. Johnson said, “I thought the end of the world had come!” It’s not tempered glass. It shattered. All over his bed. Rain’s pouring in. Glass all over the place. He’s sitting in his chair, blinking. The glass broke? That was funny. The roof leaked? That was funny.

CHRISTY MacLEAR executive director of the Philip Johnson Glass House. For years, he and David would work across the table from each other in the Glass House, Philip with his back to the landscape. But after his surgery, he changed his location at the table, turning around to watch the landscape.

Philip Johnson died in his Glass House bed in 2005. He was 98 years old.

Julia Ritson

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