In September 2011, publisher Rizzoli New York released The Glass House, a photo tour of Philip Johnson’s famous estate. The book includes text by Philip Johnson himself and by architecture critic Paul Goldberger and is the official Glass House book of The National Trust for Historic Preservation. Robin Hill’s photo “Glass House Dawn” was selected to appear on the book’s cover.
Below is the second of a three-part installment wherein Robin Hill shares his experience of photographing the Glass House estate. Read part one here.
Now I am making my way the few steps toward the lakeside pavilion. Here Johnson is up to new tricks. As I approach the lakeside, I am reminded of the London Underground loudspeaker system, which brusquely ejaculates "MIND THE GAP" every time you board or deboard a train. Instead of designing the pavilion to gently nudge the shoreline, there's this intentional but irritating gap that Johnson has deliberately placed in one's way. Why? My first thought is "to mess with your head" or perhaps it is to make you pay attention. OK, so now I'm paying attention, and the impression is that ordinary scale has been obliterated by the architect's hands. This is a perfect modern folly. It is barely functional, save to sit underneath and have an uncomfortable picnic. Through these photographer's eyes excellent framing opportunities are created by the multiple archways. The visual pun is too obvious for my taste, however, and the pavilion does nothing for me in an architectural sense. I begin to feel that this is a dud, a Johnson experiment that doesn't really work very well in either form or function. Perhaps, this is indicative of Johnson's uneven career as an architect, brilliant one minute and mediocre the next. In the space of a few steps I have gone from momentous elevation to ungarnished mediocrity, from design excellence to controlled vacuousness. Still, the adventure of being here leaves my intellect alone for a while and I am left in solitude in the middle of a 46-acre design campus. Heaven! There is a serenity here that is both palpable and meaningful.