“Edge of Danger”: Electric Light and the Negotiation of Public and Private Domestic Space in Philip Johnson's Glass and Guest Houses
Abstract:In the first half of the twentieth century the dematerializing of boundaries between enclosure and exposure problematized traditional expectations of the domestic environment. At the same time, as a space of escalating technological control, the modern domestic interior also offered new potential to redefine the meaning and means of habitation. The inherent tension between these opposing forces is particularly evident in the introduction of new electric lighting technology and applications into the modern domestic interior in the mid-twentieth century. Addressing this nexus of technology and domestic psychology, this article examines the critical role of electric lighting in regulating and framing both the public and private occupation of Philip Johnson's New Canaan estate. Exploring the dialectically paired transparent Glass House and opaque Guest House, this study illustrates how Johnson employed electric light to negotiate the visual environment of the estate as well as to help sustain a highly aestheticized domestic lifestyle. Contextualized within the existing literature, this analysis provides a more nuanced understanding of the New Canaan estate as an expression of Johnson's interests as a designer as well as a subversion of traditional suburban conventions.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: November 1, 2010
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