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A Tale of Two House

Philip Johnson's Glass House is often cited as his best building. While it was completed before Mies van der Rohe's house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, it is generally considered derivative of that project, even though the all-glass house was hardly invented by Mies.

A Tale of Two House

Philip Johnson's Glass House is often cited as his best building. While it was completed before Mies van der Rohe's house for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, it is generally considered derivative of that project, even though the all-glass house was hardly invented by Mies.

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Johnson's scheme dated June 1947 placed the brick guesthouse at right angles to the Glass House, separating them by only a few feet. Thus the column and roof structure of the Glass House and the wall structure of the guesthouse would have been seen together forming a defined exterior space. As such, they would have presented an essay on the primary constructional and spatial means from which architecture is made. Johnson eventually understood that the visual impact of the Glass House would be diminished by this arrangement and located the guest-house on the other side of the lawn, but the idea of the twinning of these opposite buildings still remained.

That the Glass House brought together at the highest level the art of architecture and theory suggests that the links between Philip Johnson's work, the world of architectural ideas, and his larger-than-life career may be more complex than we have acknowledged.

Stuart Cohen, FAIA, of Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects in Evanston, Ill., is a practicing residential architect and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He worked for Philip Johnson and John Burgee from 1970 to 1971 and is the co-author of North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890-1940 (Acanthus Press, 2004).