Philip Johnson’s Sculpture Gallery at the Glass House—a designated historic site by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Canaan, Conn.—has reopened following a two-year, $2 million renovation. The Sculpture Gallery is one of total 14 structures built across the 49-acre landscape, and the restoration is the largest project for the estate to date.
Completed in 1970, the Sculpture Gallery was designed to house Johnson’s collection. The design of the structure ensures that sculpture is the main focus, using complimentary forms to enhance the viewer's experience. Johnson once said regarding the building’s design that he “wanted a way, a proper way, to look at sculpture,” according to the Glass House's website. While of other museums he said: “I got very tired—no, I got annoyed, by the fact that you see one sculpture and behind you, in your sub-vision, were fifteen or sixteen other sculptures," and concluded that "all sculpture needs a background of some kind.”
To achieve this, Johnson's design features interlocking volumes intersecting at a 45-degree angle which are linked by staircases, which spiral past a series of recessed bays with sculptures placed into their respective spaces that are able to be viewed as single pieces. Sculptures are by artists such as Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, George Segal, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, and Andrew Lord, in that sequence.
According to the Glass House's press release, Johnson said the gallery, with its whitewashed walls and brick floors, took inspiration from the many villages of the Greek islands, commenting that “every street is a staircase to somewhere."
However, wear over time resulted in the need for the restoration project by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, which designed, engineered, and donated the glass and skylights used to rebuild the system. The renovation began in May 2015, and was executed with Johnson's successor firm, New York-based Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects. Water infiltration called for a replacement of the gaskets and seals in the ceiling system, and the original single-pane skylights were replaced with stronger, more energy-efficient, and UV-coated double-pane glass, which cut down the amount of potentially damaging sunlight hitting the artwork. Additional changes include a new roof, updated lighting, and fresh paint on both the interior and exterior façades.
The building's skylight, composed of several aluminum partitions and glass supports a cold cathode lighting system. When weather permits, sunlight streams into the building, revealing a complex pattern of light and shadow across the building's five interior levels.
Today, the Glass House property is a model for the preservation and appreciation of modern architecture, landscape, and art, and honors the legacy of Johnson, who died in 2005. Johnson was arguably the biggest fan of the Gallery. When it was completed, he was so pleased with it that he considered making it his residence.
Tours of the Sculpture Gallery and the Glass House are available from May through November.