Famous for its transparency, the Philip Johnson Glass House--the icon of modernism that Vincent Scully called "the most conceptually important house of the century"--has nonetheless proven vexingly opaque to interpretation. Its architect, Philip Cortelyou Johnson, has been equally elusive, a polarizing and influential cultural figure on whom no psychological character study yet exists. In her new book, Adele Tutter addresses both enigmas.
Dream House: An Intimate Portrait of the Philip Johnson Glass House reveals how this superficially nonrepresentational physical structure encodes aspects of its architect’s aspirations, motivations, and conflicts--how it acts as a veritable self-portrait of his inner world. An envious, vulnerable man emerges from this intimate synthesis. Fearing he lacked talent or genius and possessing a character prone to fragmentation, Johnson perpetually searched for a dominating mentor or style to bolster his sense of self and help organize his chaotic inner world, while concealing the forbidden sense of greatness with which he justified his desire for power and influence. Tutter’s analysis reconciles the contradictory forces in a man who was both a one-time advocate of Hitler and a humanist homosexual, a dogmatic modernist and an errant postmodernist.Through its rigorous, radical reappraisal of the Glass House, this book paints a fresh and psychologically revealing portrait of the man who built it.
Because the Glass House seems relatively inaccessible by means of conventional approach, it may not be surprising that it is a practicing psychoanalyst, with a deep interest in art and architectural history, who addresses the challenges the Johnson estate presents. Mining an extraordinarily broad collection of source material, Tutter has produced a remarkable elucidation of the man and the work.
Dream House is less a purely psycho-analytic study than a sensitive empathetic exploration in the way that understanding a landscape can yield understanding both of one’s own feelings and those of another person. If Tutter is correct, and I think she is, then she has solved a very important art historical puzzle, which no earlier commentator has even identified. And that is a great achievement.... Here, arguably in contrast with his public commissions, Johnson created a highly personal masterpiece. But don’t accept my verdict: read the book and visit the Glass House in person to savor Tutter’s dazzling solution of this puzzle.
[Tutter] examines, and grounds in architectural and art history, not only the elements that make up the house -- including the art objects that grace its interior -- but also the elements fo the structures that surround it.... This fascinating study begins to show how the nuances of Johnson's life can be found within his work.
Starting from what Johnson called the house and its supporting pavilions—his "diary"—whose construction continued until his death in 2005, Tutter investigates the letters, recorded conversations, and a wealth of archival material, not to mention the rich art-historical and critical record. Out of this exploration, she has constructed a fascinating and often penetrating narrative that allows us to see Johnson’s Glass House as a deeply layered expression of his own psyche.
Tutter's book is fascinating, shedding light on different ways of thinking about how buildings come into being, and what goes into their design. Tapping latent memories and unconscious motivations, it suggest an approach that broadens, or better, deepens, thinking.