Lesson Plan

Through the Looking Glass: Transparency in Modern Architecture

A photograph of Johnson's Glass House in the fall.
Photo caption

Philip Johnson's Glass House, built in 1948-49, was built as Johnson's private residence. Strongly influenced by the Farnsworth House, the Glass House is an example of modernist uses of architectural glass. The house is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open to the public for tours.

Mesopotamian civilizations first began making small glass objects around 2500 BC. Used as an architectural material first by the Romans, the production of glass declined in the fifth century only to return as a decorative artform (stained glass) in Renaissance ecclesiastical architecture. Towards the end of the 19th century, rolled plate glass replaced glassblowing, and business owners began using larger, clearer pieces of glass for their storefronts to sell goods. The development of steel framing, in addition to enabling the construction of taller buildings, forever freed the wall from its loadbearing conformity with structure. Soon, architects began specifying glass in both commercial and domestic settings in ways that promoted the use of natural light, offered uninterrupted views, and contributed to a building’s legibility (i.e. form follows function). Analyzing the use of glass in modern architecture provides students an opportunity to examine the intersection among modern technology, economics, and culture.

Guiding Questions

What is architectural glass and what are significant periods of its development?

How has the use of architectural glass changed over time, and what physical characteristics can be studied to approximate the age and type of a piece of glass?

How is the development of architectural glass connected to history, culture, economics, and technology?

What is the future of architectural glass?

Learning Objectives

Identify, define, and, apply essential vocabulary/terminology associated with significant periods of development in the history of glass.

Examine primary documents and connect the development of architectural glass to broader themes of technology, economics, and culture.

Use historical understanding of architectural glass to assess possibilities for the future of this material.