Amid the quaint town greens and colonial-style homes in Connecticut are pockets of 20th century modernism where you can see some of the most celebrated and groundbreaking architecture of the postwar era. They're not far off that other modern, uh, marvel, Interstate 95.
NEW CANAAN: THE GLASS HOUSE
"All architects want to live beyond their death," Philip Johnson once said, and so be it. On June 23, Johnson's famous Glass House, owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, officially opens to the public. (Johnson gave the house to the Trust in 1986 but continued to live in it part-time until his death in 2005 at age 98.)
The 56-by-32-foot Bauhaus-inspired box, built in 1949, seems like a mirage, even when you're in it. The walls are quarter-inch-thick glass sheets affixed to steel columns. Inside, only a brick-clad cylinder, with a bathroom built into one side and a fireplace set into the other, interrupts the space. No matter where you turn, you're enveloped by the landscape.
It's some scenery, too: 47 wooded acres dotted with fantastic structures created by Johnson and his partner, the late David Whitney, an art dealer and collector. Along with the Glass House, a few outbuildings, some displaying art by the likes of Frank Stella and Julian Schnabel, will be open.
You can take a 90-minute tour ($25, no photography) or a two-hour, end-of-day tour ($40, sketching and photography encouraged). The tours, which are sold out through July, leave from the Glass House Visitors Center, 199 Elm St., in downtown New Canaan (45 miles from New York in suburban Fairfield County). The site is closed from November to April. For more information, go to philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.
NEW HAVEN: THE LEGACY OF KAHN
This city on Long Island Sound, 80 miles from New York, is rich in modern architecture, with landmarks by giants such as Johnson, Eero Saarinen, Paul Rudolph, and Louis Kahn. Currently all eyes are on Kahn, the iconoclastic genius whose 1953 Yale University Art Gallery (1111 Chapel St.) recently reopened after a three-year, $44 million renovation. Behind the mute, windowless facade, gallery spaces flow, light plays off the tetrahedral ceiling forms, and the concrete and steel are surprisingly sensuous (artgallery.yale.edu).
Across the street is Kahn's Yale Center for British Art (1080 Chapel St.), an elegant concrete, metal, and glass box completed in 1977, three years after the architect's death. Here you'll find light-filled spaces and rich, tactile surfaces of travertine marble, oak, and linen as well as concrete and steel (yale.edu/ycba).
The icing on the cake: Kahn's floating arts center, the Point/Counterpoint II, finished in 1976, will dock in New Haven June 16-23. The 195-by-38-foot barge has a stage with a retractable acoustical shell and, below deck, a theater and art gallery. As part of New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas (artidea.org), there will be tours, concerts, talks, and screenings of My Architect, the acclaimed 2003 documentary about Kahn made by his son, Nathaniel.
By Doug Royalty