Ghost House

Ghost House, 1984

The Ghost House is an architectural folly, a playful structure that sits atop of a nineteenth century stone barn foundation. It is an ode to the work of two very different architectural directions. The chain-link material employed was influenced by Frank Gehry’s use of everyday materials, while the overall form of the structure references Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s design methodology that makes reference to the iconic form of  a house – a rectangular base topped by a peaked roof. It is not a functional shelter.

Philip Johnson described this construction as “the spirit of a classical house.” It was built at the height of his interest in postmodernism, a style that, among other things, celebrated traditional forms.

Walking Tour with Philip Johnson, 1991

“Then I had the problem of what else to build. I was itchy and I wanted to build something. My view from the Studio is a restricted, narrow one, which is fine, but I didn’t have any fancy object to look at. What was I going to do? Just sit there all day long looking at nature, tulip trees and oak trees? Sort of a dull American thing to do, to look at woods. It’s stupid. So I said what do I do, what do I do, what do I do?

I found, through perfectly marvelous luck, in the edge of the woods, a series of old barns that had long since burned down but the old stone walls were there, the foundations. So I said, well, maybe there’s something we can do with these foundations. So I had this wonderful idea. A friend of mind builds chain link buildings, Frank Gehry, the West Coast – and he just takes ordinary material and warps it and twists it and does very interesting things with it. There’s a wonderful thing: it creates a wall without any walls, the way a glass wall does, but cheaper. And so it makes something that filters the light, that gives you a wonderful sense of either an existing or not; you can treat it either way.

So I built a little lily house down there in the woods and I keep the animals out by building a chain link sort of a temple form. The size and everything else was the size of one of the rooms of the barn. And I used the foundations of the barn to give me a kick. The other foundations are still there for future work when I have fun.”

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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