For more than 75 years, a 49-acre plot in a small Connecticut town has housed some of the gems of architectural history. In addition to the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s legendary structure for which the property is named, the property in New Canaan has more than a dozen structures that comprise the late architect’s lasting legacy.
Johnson’s Brick House was the very first building erected on the property but became the most overlooked. A red bunker-like home, it couldn’t be more different from the famed glass-walled building it faces. Now, after being closed to the public for 15 years, it is set to reopen next year following an ambitious seven-figure renovation.
A tale of two buildings
Unlike Johnson’s other iconic designs, which include Manhattan’s Seagram Building and the postmodern AT&T skyscraper, the structures on the Glass House property were created by the architect for his own use. Beginning in the 1940s, the New Canaan plot was Johnson and his partner David Whitney’s regular weekend retreat.
The seemingly impenetrable Brick House and transparent Glass House were both built in 1949 across 56 feet of the property. They were designed to offer “two essential halves to a single composition,” according to a statement by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nonprofit that owns the site. The concept didn’t just apply to aesthetics—the Brick House contained the mechanical equipment for the two buildings and connected the Glass House with necessary underground pipes and wiring. And as a bedroom, it provided the privacy lacking in the nearby glass structure.
While the Glass House served as a salon, where Johnson hosted parties frequented by Yale students and prominent people including Frank Gehry, Fran Lebowitz and Agnes Gund, the Brick House was utilized as an overnight guest house by the likes of Andy Warhol and Phyllis Lambert.
The Brick House was originally designed with three bedrooms with porthole windows, although two rooms were combined in 1953 to create one large bedroom. An Ibram Lassaw sculpture hung above the bed on the wall, which was covered in luxurious cotton fabric.
Over the years, Johnson and Whitney added more structures on their Connecticut property, each with a unique purpose. A subterranean art gallery was created to showcase works by Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg, while a sculpture gallery was added a few years later. The architect also built a one-room studio, a chain link structure known as the “Ghost House” and a 30-foot tower he frequently climbed.
In 1986, Johnson donated the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation under the condition that it would be available to the public after his death. Two years after the architect died in 2005 at age 98, the Glass House property opened and now attracts more than 10,000 annual visitors. However, the Brick House was only open to the public for one year. It’s been closed since 2008 due to ongoing water infiltration damage, roof and skylight failure, mold growth, rusting mechanical systems and deteriorating plaster.
Restoring the brick-walled home has long been the top priority for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which yesterday (Nov. 15) revealed it has secured $1.8 million to reopen it in 2024. With its furnishings, books and artwork stored off-site for the time being, the building’s restoration project will see the house’s roof and skylights replaced, its entrance and three windows repaired and its mechanical and electrical systems upgraded. Meanwhile, the makers of both the original fabric wallpaper and carpets in the Brick House will provide replacements.
It is scheduled to reopen in April 2024, coinciding with both the opening of the Glass House property for the season and the 75th anniversary of the Brick House and Glass House, which will be celebrated with a series of events, exhibitions and featured artists.
“We are incredibly excited to embark on this project and finally be able to introduce visitors to such an integral part of the Glass House story,” said Kirsten Reoch, the new executive director of the Glass House, in a statement. “We look forward to using the Brick House as a catalyst for more projects ahead—both future restorations of our buildings, landscape, and collections and as inspiration for new site-specific artistic commissions in the future.”