On first appraisal, Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Hilario Candela’s Miami Marine Stadium seem to have little in common.
The Glass House was conceived and created in 1949, during a mid-career break, by America’s “dean of architecture,” the scion of a New Amsterdam family. A pristine box surrounded by a dozen other Johnson-designed structures, it nestles amid forested hills outside New York City and was a weekend getaway for Johnson and his friends.
The 1963 stadium, designed to seat more than 6,000, perches at the edge of a water-filled basin. Its Cuban-born architect, then 28 and freshly settled in the United States, developed the innovative cast concrete grandstand structure for speed boat races.
The Glass House received National Historical Landmark designation during Johnson’s lifetime and remains a treasured site for scholarly pilgrimage. The stadium, essentially abandoned by Miami administrators in 1992, became a “canvas” for graffiti artists. It barely escaped demolition.
Now the two buildings share protected status, and the stadium’s supporters are campaigning for renovation funds. Complementary exhibitions at the Coral Gables Museum focus on the two structures, telling compelling stories — in video, sculpture, image and text — about architecture, South Florida design and the engagement of man-made structures with nature.
According to director Christine Rupp, the museum’s mission is to celebrate the civic arts — and not just in Coral Gables: “We explore and celebrate architecture, urban planning, sustainable development and preservation.”
The exhibitions deliver.
In A Chapel in a Cathedral of Nature, architectural and interior design photographer Robin Hill reveals the outer and inner character of The Glass House through a series of arresting color photographs, taken during four seasons and at various times of day — and from a multitude of vantage points. Juxtaposed against the porous limestone gallery walls, the architectural and natural themes emerge vividly.
Johnson scholar Hilary Lewis, the architect’s junior by several decades, co-wrote with him and lectures internationally. Her texts further reveal the site, the 13 buildings and the man.
“As a work in progress for over 40 years, the project serves as an autobiography of Johnson’s interests and as a place to experiment,” she said in an interview.
These diverse structures and their placement reflect Johnson’s affection for 18th century European landscape design. “But what we don’t expect is to see modern architecture placed within that,” according to Lewis. “We normally expect grottos, gazebos and temples.”
What we do see is nature reflected in the architecture. According to Hill, “The signature photograph of this exhibition is Glass House Dawn. Photographed in pre-dawn light at the height of the fall season and with all the lights on, I was able to capture something unique by placing my camera almost on top of the water in the swimming pool, thereby creating a full reflection of the Glass House.”
It’s a majestic image, in which the photographer pays homage to the architect while also expressing his own vision. “I try to fuse together the inherent beauty of the architecture I’m photographing with my own visual philosophy, which places weight on the interaction of light and shadow and the effect that has on geometry, materials and the perception of space, ” he said.