Brick House

Brick House, 1949

The Glass House and the Brick House offer a lesson in contrasts. Designed at the same time as the Glass House (1945-48) the Brick House was completed a few months before the Glass House. A grassy court links the two buildings conceived of as a single composition. Both houses are fifty-five feet long; however, the Brick House is only half as deep as the Glass House. The Brick House contains all the support systems necessary for the function of both buildings. As opposed to the transparency of the Glass House, brick almost completely encases the house. The only windows, with the exception of the skylights, are large circular forms at the rear of the building. According to Philip Johnson, this series of round openings alludes to Filippo Brunelleschi’s fifteenth-century Duomo in Florence.

Johnson remodeled the interior of the Brick House in 1953. Originally the building contained three equally-sized guest rooms. Now a narrow skylit corridor connects a bedroom and reading room. The low, sleek, white vaults that decorate the  bedroom are based on the breakfast room of the Sir John Soane House in London (completed in 1824) and are harbingers of the elements later found in Johnson’s original design of the synagogue for the Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, New York, and later still expressed at the New York State Theater (now David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center, New York. The room is covered in a patterned cotton fabric designed for Fortuny. Prints by Brice Marden hang in the corridor. The reading room consists of Johnson’s personal library of philosophy, history, art history and fiction books.

Walking tour with Philip Johnson, 1991

“The Brick House, eighty feet away from the Glass House, acts as a sort of a repoussoir from where you get out of your car; a repoussoir that points you toward the Glass House and anchors the hillside that rises behind it. But it’s also perfectly plain wall box with a pole in it. People have commented there’s not much architecture there. There’s not meant to be any architecture there. It contains the guest rooms and bathrooms and the necessaries and the heating. So, in that way, we make an anchor for the Glass House.

A very few years after I moved in, I changed everything on the inside of the Brick House in order to express what I was working on at the time, which was another wave of emotion that overcame me for the arch and for the eighteenth-century and for Sir John Soane, the great English architect, so I started deliberately copying whatever I felt like it.

I built a plaster pavilion in the biggest room there, ten feet by thirty feet. It’s a very funny shaped room. So I had a very interesting problem of this canopy which sits as a free building in that room. And I learned from Sir John Soane the wonderful thing of lighting coming in from around a curved surface to make you cuddle. This was a bedroom, why not get cuddly. So, I had silk – no, it was cotton – put on the walls and the plaster dome filters the lighting. That gave me a beginning of my whole period of when I felt that an arch was absolutely essential to the anchoring of an architectural eye, that it had a quality that no trabeation, no flat roof or flat beam could possibly give you.”

Interview conducted on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation by Eleanor Devens, Franz Schultz, Jeffrey Shaw, and Frank Sanchis.

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