Carol Highsmith
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People in Glass Houses….Have a Great (and Pricey!) View

I love — and love even more to photograph — American architecture.  I used to look at modernist structures and appreciate them, but I was mainly drawn to historic buildings and homes (perhaps because I live in one). One year I traveled across America, documenting award-winning architecture for the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  I grew tremendously in my knowledge and appreciation of the built environment.  These days, some modern architecture is itself vintage (the AIA considers any building over 50 historic), and my regard for it continues to grow. On December 3, 2006 the celebrated Case Study #22 House, with its stunning view of the Los Angeles Basin, which had been built for designer Clarence “Buck” Stahl, sold for $3,185,600 to a female art collector from South Korea. The sale represented the second-highest price ever paid for a modern house at auction, behind the tab for Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.  It sold for $8 million. Reports of the Stahl House sale describe it as a “watershed moment” in the public acceptance of Modernism not just as architecture, but as art.  I was thrilled to get my own chance to catch a camera-eye view of it!

Above: In February 1959, Arts & Architecture magazine  — which had sponsored what became known as the Case Study, in which it commissioned architects to design and build efficient and inexpensive modernist homes after World War II — lauded #22 House’s design as “some of the cleanest and most immaculate thinking in the development of the small contemporary house.”  A year later, celebrated photographer Julius Shulman was invited to photograph it.  His images become iconic symbols of California Modernism and sparked the imagination of designers and architects nationwide. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)

View from the inside looking out of one of many “picture windows” at van der Rohe’s classic modernist Farnsworth House, now a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)

This structure, built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, is so iconic that it is known, simply and universally, as the Glass House.  Designed by architect Philip Johnson as his own residence, it is regarded as a masterpiece in the use of glass. The house became the signature work of Johnson and his associate, Richard Foster, and a landmark for modern architecture. The building is an essay in minimalist structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)