But maybe he would have wanted to...
You wouldn’t think that New Canaan, a former farming town now a commute away from New York City, would house one of the largest collections of mid-century modern buildings in the country.
Beginning in the late 1940s, many of America’s most famous modernist architects settled in New Canaan, Connecticut. According Gwen North Reiss, my tour guide for one of the most famous houses here, Philip Johnson's Glass House, the architects were drawn to the area by Eliot Noyes who had moved with his family to then-rural Connecticut because it was affordable and had good schools. Soon after, though, others followed, inspired by Noyes’ leadership to build show houses, buildings that would be “calling cards” and help to generate new commissions. Many of the architects came from Harvard’s architecture school; Philip Johnson was one of the Harvard group. Selecting a site overlooking a hollow, he built the Glass House in 1949, placing it among the colonial cottages and houses already in New Canaan.
In the 1980s when Johnson gave the Glass House, outbuildings, and land to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, he did so because he felt that, absent some protection, the structure would be torn down by a community that objected to modernist building forms.
I was curious to see what Christy MacLear, executive director of the Glass House, has done to help increase the visibility of the house and the way the property participates in life in New Canaan. The Glass House certainly is an active player in both the local community and beyond. To do this, the staff used traditional methods to increase the visibility of the property, share the context in which the house developed, and provide information to visitor.
Using a survey of surrounding structures, the staff turned what could have otherwise been a common tack into an interactive resource, posting the results online and in print and widening the scope to include communities beyond Connecticut. Building awareness of the property and modernism off this survey was a key in the plan to make Philip Johnson’s Glass House less about the house itself and more about the creating a center for modernism in a larger context.
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