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WHEN PHILIP JOHNSON’S Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., was featured in Life magazine soon after its completion in 1949, architects and designers downed martinis at the Oyster Bar, pondering the future of the International Style. But that probably wasn’t what most people were thinking about as they looked at the pictures. They likely leaned back in their Barcaloungers and wondered: How could he actually live in a clear box, without walls, without privacy, without any stuff?
The answer was that despite our indelible impression of Johnson, the owlish man in the dapper suit and those spectacles, spending his incredibly long life (he died at age 98 in 2005) in the 1,800-square-foot transparent rectangle, silhouetted against a backdrop of greenery that he called “expensive wallpaper,” he never really did live in the Glass House. At least not in the self-contained sense in which the rest of us occupy our homes.
Instead, the Glass House was merely the focal point of what eventually grew to be a veritable architectural theme park on 49 meticulously tended acres, comprising 14 structures, in which Johnson and David Whitney, the collector and curator who met him in 1960 and became his life partner, and who died just months after Johnson, enjoyed their impossibly glamorous weekend existence. ….