In the beginning, there were two: the Glass House and the Brick House, both about 50 feet long and finished within months of each other in 1949 on a five-acre plot, with a 90-foot-wide grassy court separating them. History has downplayed the Brick House — from the outside it’s plain and it doesn’t fit well with the people-in-glass-houses narrative — but architect Philip Johnson always knew it would be impossible to live entirely in the open, so he built a place to get some privacy.
The rest of the buildings came naturally, if gradually. The idea of having a slew of small houses for different activities, moods and seasons, complemented by decorative “follies,” was Johnson’s conception for the site from early on. He called it a “diary of an eccentric architect,” but it was also a sketchbook, an homage to architects past and present, and to friends like the dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein, after whom Johnson named one of the follies he built on the property, a 30-foot-high tower made of painted concrete blocks.
In contrast to their whirlwind weekday world in Manhattan, Johnson and Whitney saw life in New Canaan as perpetual camping, albeit of a luxurious, minimalist sort.