Graduate students create website that continues legacy of the “longest-running salon in America”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Philip Johnson Glass House, and the School of Visual Arts (SVA) have launched, a website that extends the signature Glass House Conversations program, an invitational held at the Glass House during 2008 and 2009 with cultural, business and educational leaders sponsored by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope.

The goal of the new site is to reach an international audience of people with design-related interests and provide them with an on-going forum and new community for insightful conversations. 

The site has been in development since last fall through an inventive partnership between the MFA Interaction Design Department at SVA and the Philip Johnson Glass House. Its goal is to adapt the intimate Glass House Conversations series to an expanded digital forum, and build on the legacy of architect Philip Johnson’s home in New Canaan, Connecticut, a place that architectural historian Vincent Scully called the “longest running salon in America.” It was at the Glass House that Philip Johnson and longtime partner David Whitney brought together people like Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Robert A.M. Stern for discussions that shaped the cultural dialogue of the 20th century. This project engages a new, on-line audience and expands the conversation into the 21st century.

“The challenge was two-fold: first, how to engage a broader audience in the design leadership conversations that occurred at the Glass House and became a branded program; and then how to stay true to what Philip Johnson and David Whitney did best- always staying on the cutting edge of innovation,” said Christy MacLear, Executive Director for the Philip Johnson Glass House.  “SVA was the perfect partner to envision how a meaningful dialogue could occur in a digital forum, examples of which were limited to date. The students’ work is truly groundbreaking.”

Each week on a host puts forth a provocation in the form of a question or a debate topic, and members of the public worldwide have up to five days to respond. Alice Rawsthorn, the design critic for the International Herald Tribune, hosts the discussion for the week of July 19, and upcoming conversations will be hosted by leaders in cultural fields, including John Maeda, Ralph Caplan, and John Lilly.

Six students from SVA–Clint Beharry, Derek Chan, Kristin Graefe, Katie Koch, Russell Maschmeyer, and Eric St. Onge–developed the site from the fall of 2009 through the spring of 2010 in the course Continuing the Conversation. “Glass House Conversations was a dynamic opportunity for our students to extend the learning from the classroom, and work in a creative collaboration with clients who care deeply both about design and the community at large,” said Liz Danzico, chair, MFA Interaction Design Department at SVA, who directed the project with Jason Santa Maria, mentor, and Dorothy Dunn, former Director of Visitor Experience for the Glass House. In the MFA Interaction Design Department, students work both individually and collaboratively to learn the concepts and methods of interaction design, starting with an understanding of people and the environments that drive their needs, goals and experiences. Course materials consider these social constructs and human experiences as the basis for approaching problems across media.

SVA will continue to be involved through the site’s launch as two students from the MFA Design Criticism DepartmentEmily Leibin and Molly Heintz–have been named fellows at the Glass House to help shape content for the site, inviting moderators and designing questions to inspire on-line exchange and use. Initial audience use has been targeted to the 120 leaders involved in the 2008 and 2009 Conversations and will expand to include the 100 participants of Modern Views, a project for which contemporary artists, architects, and designers created and donated works of art and written statements, capturing their thoughts and inspirations about the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House (1945-51), the Philip Johnson Glass House (1949), and the architects who created them.

About SVA

The MFA Interaction Design Department at SVA is an inventive two-year program that requires students to intimately understand how design can affect human behavior, and to think more holistically about the products and services they’re creating. The program explores the strategic role of interaction design in shaping everyday life, and intends to increase the relevancy of design to business and society so designers can make a difference.

The MFA Design Criticism Department at SVA trains students to research, analyze and evaluate design and its social and environmental implications. Drawing on the broadest possible definition of design, the two-year curriculum emphasizes the skills and knowledge relevant to those who wish to apply critical thinking about design in a range of media, and addresses graphic, Web and product design as well as fashion, urban planning and network systems.

School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City is an established leader and innovator in the education of artists. From its inception in 1947, the faculty has been comprised of professionals working in the arts and art-related fields. SVA provides an environment that nurtures creativity, inventiveness and experimentation, enabling students to develop a strong sense of identity and a clear direction of purpose.
About the Philip Johnson Glass House and Modern Views

The Philip Johnson Glass House is an international destination and celebrated example of modernist architecture and has been named as the Center for Modernism by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It operates as a programmatic, scholastic and advisory center for modern architecture, art and landscape.

Spearheaded by Glass House leadership, as the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Center for Modernism, the Modern Views project represents a year-long initiative to raise $1M for critical site preservation efforts at both of these Modernist icons.

About the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit membership organization bringing people together to protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them. By saving the places where great moments from history – and the important moments of everyday life – took place, the National Trust for Historic Preservation helps revitalize neighborhoods and communities, spark economic development and promote environmental sustainability. With headquarters in Washington, DC, eight regional and field offices, 29 historic sites, and partner organizations in 50 states, territories, and the District of Columbia, the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to a national network of people, organizations and local communities committed to saving places, connecting us to our history and collectively shaping the future of America’s stories.

For more information, please contact the School of Visual Arts at or 212.592.2010.

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