About Glass House Conversations

Glass House Conversations builds on the legacy of Philip Johnson (1906-2005) and David Whitney (1939-2005), who brought people from diverse backgrounds together to shape the cultural dialogue of the 20th Century. The Philip Johnson Glass House extends this salon through the Conversations program series, including Glass House Conversations, the public moderated dialogues online, Conversations in Context, evening events at the Glass House, and the earlier Glass House Conversations, on-site exploratory talks.

Glass House Conversations: The Glass House invites a guest host from across the creative disciplines of architecture, art, design, landscape architecture and preservation. Hosts post a question or debate topic, and responders worldwide have one to two weeks to join the online conversation.

Conversations Archive

Past conversations held on a weekly basis on this website are archived in this space.



John Hill

Architect / Writer

John gave the final word - Modern

Thanks to everybody on both sides for participating in the discussion and for many valuable comments. The topic and questions I proposed could hardly find resolution in this discussion (it’s much too broad and loaded), but it was worth trying. I’m happy to see that many people want to move beyond either/or scenarios when considering the modernist/traditional divide, and that others see stylistic debates as distracting or irrelevant.

While I think the debate will carry on by the vocal minority on both sides, due to the oppositional cores of modernist and traditional/classical principles, it just might be that the majority would rather prioritize other things (scale, quality of construction, sustainability, etc.) over defining something as modernist or traditional. Contemporary compromise involves the acceptance of various positions, whatever one’s leanings. Architectural diversity is a good thing.

Nancy gave the final word

I agree, this has been a rich and thoughtful conversation. So very late in the day, I’d like to add just one more dimension to the discussion. I’d like to suggest that the politics of the university — from localized urban issues to the composition of investment portfolios — seems likely to become an increasingly important factor in the relationship of universities to cities.

I began to think about this question of politics several years ago, when I was at Arizona State University, working as the first director of Phoenix Urban Research Lab, or PURL, an urban design center established by ASU as part of a university-wide focus on civic engagement. After several months in the job, I began to realize that many Phoenicians were suspicious of our efforts — suspicious not so much of any specific projects or proposals but rather of what many in town saw as a showy but shallow effort that had been created and was being run entirely on the university’s own terms — a kind of engagement lite. That PURL seems lately to have been a casualty of university budget cutting will surely reinforce the feeling in the local community that the school’s commitment was always contingent.

I thought more about this question of politics last week, when I read, in a blog on The Nation, about the efforts of NYU students to convince the school administration to divest its holdings in “environmentally harmful” corporations, especially the fossil fuel multinationals. In other words, to the student activists — whose Manhattan dormitories went dark after superstorm Sandy — it’s not good enough for the school to green the campus if the university portfolio is enriched by the oil rush in the Arctic Sea.

To me this suggests that universities are being asked to follow through on their professed ideals — whether civic involvement or environmental responsibility — and to exemplify and uphold their principles in actions at all scales. It suggests that how universities engage with their cities — and with the planet — is becoming more and more politicized. Which means, of course, that the stakes are being raised.

December 9, 2012


Hosted By:

Stephanie Barron

senior curator and head of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)


Kulapat Yantrasast

co-founder and principal of wHY Architecture & Design

Kulapat gave the final word

I am excited to see that this question has inspired such diverse and well-researched responses, as I was not trying to sum up but rather to offer an arena where ideas are shared. Rather, I’d like to highlight a few of the responses that were born out of this question of art, landscape/nature, and architecture, however go on to extend into further realms of thought and bring up new questions and ideas:
From fellow architect Peter Zweig:
‘… The more I travel, it is the definition of art defined by a particular culture that elevates the awareness of it’s people to appreciate the landscape, their architecture, nature and art. I have learned to take each encounter with a new culture on its own terms, taste the culinary cuisine, embed my mind in the local art and architecture and see the world from a different point of view. It is this process of being transported to another sense of place that is different from my own world, that is, for me, the true effect of this creative mingling of art, architecture, landscape and nature.’
From Alan Wade:
‘…I wonder if in future the 20th century won’t be seen as an anomaly in the history of art, a detour, during which art was confined to a series of shoeboxes, before and after which it was mostly found in the wild. Donald Judd and Walter de Maria weren’t so much innovating as getting back to an historical norm, no?’
Marc Pally expands on Alan’s point by saying:
‘… The white box is a blip on art’s timeline and is a powerful metaphor for the often secondary role art has come to play in western culture. (…) One of the seeds of the current flourishing of public art is the relocation of art from the gallery to open and public spaces. Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural interventions happened in urban spaces and Michael Heizer’s earth works occurred in remote sites, both however affirm each artist’s desire to work outside of the white box, to place art directly into the world without the mediation of a supporting and/or presenting entity. (…) The richness and diversity of formats in which art thrives will only intensify.’
Let the conversations continue!

Léopold gave the final word

The very idea that architecture could loose its political agency seems illusory to me. Politics is the arrangement of relationships of power that link the individuals to one another in a given society. Architecture can never be neutral in that matter. If, through the notion of ‘political potential’ we mean that some architectures are more political than others, we might be mistaken ourselves. However, if we question this same notion in the idea that we can influence the political characteristics inherent to architecture, in order to integrate it within the principles of an individual or collective ethics, then we can indeed speak of a ‘political potential’.

Strategies of hyper-visibility, camouflage or decoy can be created and used as visual apparatuses in this attempt. Ultimately nevertheless, architecture in its materiality remains an instrument of control of the bodies whether we want it or not. All the clumsy people like me understood too well that a glass wall remains a wall when encountering it. Architecture’s violence unfolds irresistibly upon our bodies no matter what its visibility is.

The Original Glass House Conversations

A Tradition of Conversations at the Glass House

The following themes were used to frame conversations held at the Philip Johnson Glass House. Invitational dialogues brought together thought leaders from across society for these conversations that explored important issues and new ideas.

Attention Span

Paul Holdengraber

New York Public Library

Breaking the Rules

Jeff Gordinier

Editor-at-Large, Details

Citizen Designer

Maruice Cox

National Endowment for the Arts

Design+Civic Leadership

Charles Granquist

Rockefeller Brothers Fund


Claudine Brown

The Nathan Cummings Foundation

Power of Place

Laurie Beckelman

Beckelman+Capalino, LLC

Procession & Seduction

Fritz Haeg

Artist, author Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn


John Maeda

President, Rhode Island School of Design

Solution or Sacrilege

Jean Gardner


Susan Szenasy

Metropolis magazine

Toward a 21st Century Renaissance

Roger Mandle

Qatar Museums Authority


Cliff Pearson

Architectural Record


Michael Bierut