By the time Johnson began designing the property’s centerpiece—The Glass House—two other architects of note had moved to New Canaan—Marcel Breuer and Eliot Noyes. These men would be joined by Landis Gores and John Johansen to become the iconic ‘Harvard Five’, all of them having either studied or taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
Completed in 1949, The Glass House was featured in the worldwide architectural press almost immediately. But not everyone in New Canaan was thrilled with the new notoriety of their gifted but eccentric neighbor. As The New York Times reported: “Weekend crowds have been blocking traffic on Ponus Ridge . . . uninvited visitors tramp about to view [the houses] with mingled expressions of awe, wonder and indignation. They agree that nothing like it was ever seen in these parts.”
Carr says that The Glass House has been able to get National Endowment for the Arts, Connecticut Humanities and New Canaan Community Foundation grants, and that Johnson and his partner, the late David Whitney, left an endowment for the property. Nonetheless, all of this falls short of the funds needed to continue The Glass House as a major attraction. Carr explains that a substantial part of Johnson’s large collection of modernist art, worth perhaps in the hundreds of millions, was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“In addition to daily operating expenses, we have some renovations that need to be done,” she continues. “We just completed work on the Sculpture Gallery, and the Brick House is much in need of renovation."
Despite this, to a visitor, the estate has never looked more magnificent. The grounds are kept impeccably, and Johnson’s knack for landscape design makes walking about a feast for the eyes.
As with Olmstead's New York Central Park, every hill, every tree, every bush looks like it belongs exactly where it is.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, Johnson grew bored with the strident and doctrinaire modernism espoused by his mentor Mies van der Rohe. He wanted architecture that was of its time, reflective of the larger aesthetic tastes then sweeping the country. One of these trends was molding concrete into curvaceous forms. Down the hill from The Glass House, he envisioned a neoclassical pavilion fronting on a man-made pond. The structure explores ways in which designers use modern language while simultaneously exploring Renaissance architectural problems, like how to round a corner. The Pavilion also plays with notions of scale, appearing from a distance to be much larger than its actual size.
Da Monsta's name is an adaptation of the monster. It is constructed of gunnite and uses warped, torqued forms - far from the rectilinear shapes of the International Style. Johnson felt the building had the quality of a living thing.
Fortune looked favorably on New Canaan that lucky day when Johnson showed-up in late 1945 to survey the land on Ponus Ridge Road. After all, there were many other Fairfield and Westchester communities equally as bucolic and appealing. With The Glass House compound now facing some challenging times, it is up to the communities that surround The Glass House to assure that it remains a local, regional, national and international destination - in perpetuity.