The Glass House Prepares for Future Renovation

by Megan Headley

Philip Johnson's Glass House, the monument to modernist architecture built in New Canaan, Conn., in 1949, opened to the public for the first time in its 50-plus year history in April-but already plans are being made to close the tourist site for extensive renovations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation site will close late next year as it is prepared for a major renovation next winter, including the full replacement of its glass.

A 1996 Conditions Survey Report by Philip Johnson, Ritchie and Fiore Architects and an extensive conditions survey in the summer of 2006 by Glass House preservationist Sandy Cross revealed that the house's steel framing system has become corroded and needs to be replaced.

The Glass House has faced at least five instances of glass replacement in its 58- year history. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

"The corrosion of the steel (severe in several locations) was contributing not only to the degradation of the steel itself, but also was affecting the glass-the glass is cracked in a few areas due to the pressure placed on it by the expansion of the steel caused by oxide jacking," Cross says.

The renovation will aim to prevent moisture infiltration problems, which has led to much of the deterioration. To reach the source of the problem, contractors will need to go through the house's glass walls.

"In order to access and address the steel corrosion, the glass will need to be removed and some steel components will need to be disassembled," Cross says, "so some glass breakage may be inevitable, thereby requiring glass replacement anyway."

While the glass supplier has been selected, a glazing contractor has not as yet.

The biggest concern of the renovation effort is to maintain the original design intent of the Glass House. However, professionals within the glass industry can't help but note that numerous advances have been made in the glass industry over the last 58 years since the structure was completed. Several professionals offered their advice on the products they'd recommend if the Glass House were to be completed today.

To read those recommendations and learn more about the National Trust for Historic Preservation's plans for renovating the Glass House look for the September issue of USGlass magazine.

-Megan Headley is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine.