NO PATH LEADS to Philip Johnson's study. It stands by itself, serene and white against the dark green trees that make a semicircle behind it. In front is a rough-cut field, a reminder that its site in New Canaan, Conn., was once farmland. Nearby are lines of low stone walls, laid without mortar to mark the fields.
"You realize there's no path to the study," said Johnson. "You're supposed to make a pilgrimage to get to there. It's a way of dissociating yourself from everything else. I walk there to work even if it's raining or snowing."
Not only is there no path, there's also no bath, or telephone. "Nothing is allowed to intrude," Johnson explained. "I leave all those things behind me when I go to the study."
The study looks more like a temple. And johnson's walk through the fields is like a short version of the devout Hindu yearly trek through the mountains to their temple. "No, of course I don't trek through the moutains to their temple. "No, of course I don't recite a mantra as I walk to the study. I'm not religious," said Johnson.
The study, like Pallas Athenea, sprang full grown from the head of its farther. It is descended from no other antecedents -- though it might be suspected that its creator had at least once admired a Near Eastern temple. He obviously has built many castles in the sand.
The dazzling white exterior is punctuated by the tall, red front door st at an angle. No doubt here is where you enter. From the front, no window pierces the chaste form. The white 15-by-15-foot box-like angularity is broken by the curve of its tower, rising in a 23-foot-high cone to a truncated top. The rest of the ceiling is a comfortable 10 feet. On the other side, the chimney is a balancing rectangle.
Outside, the study may seem to some an abstract assemblage of architectural building blocks, rather closed, cold, keeping itself to itself. But the welcome of the red front door is no false invitation.
The one room isn't all revealed as you walk in the door. The floor plan is surprisingly complicated for the size. Johnson has always delighted in creating complexity. To put it simply, he likes to fool you into thinking his architecture is simple and straightforward, when it's actually as tricky as any 18th-century trompe l'oeil, fool-the-eye, design.
Three bookshelves, painted dark, are set into the walls. They hold a scholar's collection of books an architecture, many of them oversize, a few rate.
But the nucleus of the room, if you can call it that since it's determinedly off center, is the tower, or the alcove, where the northeast corner would be if it were a corner. The cones rises to a clear dome skylight, an oculus to give it its proper name. Indeed it does look like an eye.
You would have to be very sure of yourself, your conscience and your worth in this world to be able to sit in a chair, as Johnson does, with the heavens examining you under that all-seeing eye. On the other hand, Johnson, whom no one has ever accused of lacking self-assurance, may well sit in that hot seat and feel as though the heavens are passing a benediction, crowning him with a halo of light.
Philosophy aside, the design is quite practical, bathing the work-table and the worker in clear, unshadowed light. The top part of the cone is painted a whiter white, to intensify the light. At night, electric bulbs substitute for sunlight. It may be one of the two or three best places in the world to sit and work.
Three rectangular skylights, long and narrow, are set into the ceiling in front of each bookcase. Again, large clear globes are set into all the skylights for nighttime lighting.
Critic Paul Goldberger wrote that the study is designed for one person, and he quotes Johnson as saying "a second person is an invasion of privacy." But no man who lives in a glass house -- as Johnson does -- and throws the greatest parties in architectural social history, contemplates being forever alone, even in his study.
Indeed, the study does have two Thonet cane and bentwood armchairs, the sort Le Corbusier used in all his interiors. Perhaps an argument could be made that the second chair is there for symmetry, like the fake doors or windows the classical architects were always using as a balancing act. But nothing else in the study is symmetrical. It seems more likely that Johnson, who is the great architecturer raconteur, sometimes invites someone else to look at a sketch or a book, or talk about whether buildings should have tops, and other verities.
To hold the books is a square white table by the Italian designer Joe Columbo. When I saw it, it also held a box Massimo Vignelli's building blocks for architects, columns and arches made of marble, set in a woode box with a plexiglass lid, a pad of paper with notations and sharpened pencils. Since Johnson has a reputation as following his mentor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in believing "God is in the Details," it is interesting to note that the objects were just there, not arranged.
On the south wall is a large unframed sheet of glass. The scholar, sitting in illuminated chair, can rest his eyes and his mind by looking up from his close work of books and papers and out the window at the distant view of trees and field. A house is in the field next door, but it isn't visible from the well-placed window.
Anyway, Johnson bought the land and the house, which he plans to move. Once many more trees grew around the building, but Johnson cleared them out. "Americans are too sentimental about trees," he said. "Monticello [Jefferson's great house near Charlottesville, Va.] has too many trees. Trees cut off the light."
The intensely personal building speaks to the sybarite as well as the scholar. A black-painted, unobtrusive fireplace is catty-cornered from the tower. A heat pump sends its treated air down through unobtrusive air slots above the bookcases.
The one jarring note in the whole picture is what may be the most outlandish carpet that any self-respecting architect ever caused to be laid. Some of the architects who came to the recent party (very respectfully, as to a major monument) seem to have been thrown by the carpet. Johnson spoke of it as being a commecial, motel-room-type carpet. It would seem more appropriate in a transient accommodation intended for one-night stands. The design is vaguely Oriental and the color is firmly red.
Johnson defended it. "It's colorful, it's supposed to be different from the building." He agreed that it might be considered a beauty mark, like the fake moles ladies once used on their faces to call attention to their beauty.
The other new additions to the estate are concrete gates with a faint Moorish cast to the top. The tall standards are doubled so a bar can drop in between. Johnson has always had a problem with sightseers, so the gates are designed to stop them. "But," said Johnson's partner, John Burgee, "the gates actually serve to advertise where the property is. So he has more tourists than ever."