The Glass House sits on a 47-acre plot of land in the low, rolling hills of New Canaan, Connecticut. The structure makes nature a core part of the building's design with floor-to-ceiling glass panels that wrap around the house. Inspired by Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House and completed in 1949, experts consider the Glass House one of the finest examples of modernist architecture in the United States.
The man who designed and lived inside that home was Philip Johnson, one of the most well-known and influential American architects outside of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, Johnson—who enjoyed a successful decades-long career—was also a known white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer.
On November 27, a group of 30 artists, architects, and academics sent a letter to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City—where Johnson founded the architecture department and served as curator for over fifty years—calling on the institution to remove all mention of Johnson from its public spaces, honorifics, and leadership titles. The letter also names the Harvard Graduate School of Design and any public-facing nonprofit that uses Johnson's name to cease doing so.
Johnson's white supremacist beliefs are very well-documented and even known by the FBI. This call-out isn't about "canceling" Johnson or scrubbing his existence from history, rather about rethinking how we want to celebrate figures like him.
"There is a role for Johnson's architectural work in archives and historical preservation," writes the Johnson Study Group in their letter. "However, naming titles and spaces inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for curators, administrators, students and others who participate in these institutions." More from the letter:
Johnson's commitment to white supremacy was significant and consequential. He used his office at MoMA and his curatorial work as a pretense to collaborate with the German Nazi party, including personally translating propaganda, disseminating Nazi publications, and forming an affiliated fascist party in Louisiana. He effectively segregated the architectural collection at MoMA, where under his leadership (1933-1988) not a single work by any Black architect or designer was included in the collection. He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in the field of architecture, a legacy that continues to do harm today.
As Curbed pointed out, Johnson also supported the anti-Semitic radio demagogue Father Coughlin, designed a stage for Coughlin inspired by the one Hitler used, and called attending Nazi rallies "exhilarating." Though he apparently turned away from Nazism after World War II, his wealth and social connections allowed him to continue in his influential positions. I should also note that in the 1990s, Johnson worked closely with a prominent New York real estate developer by the name of Donald Trump.
The group calls on all MoMA members and all alumni of the Harvard GSD to stop supporting either institution until they strike Johnson's name from all places and titles. The MoMA currently has a curator position named after the man—Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design—and his name written on the walls of the museum he helped found. Neither MoMA nor Harvard GSD has yet to respond to the letter.
Regarding how this news affects the way we look at Glass House, I'd just like to say it's fitting that a man who lived inside a glass box had few qualms about expressing his views to the public. We know what's inside, and we keep putting it on display.