Fishers Island, a seven-mile-long enclave for New York’s summering gentry and their Colonial Revivals, has a newcomer: a stunning Modern glass pavilion, by the Manhattan-based architect Thomas Phifer, that virtually erases the boundary between indoors and out. Looking at the house from the garden, one can see straight through it to the Long Island Sound on the other side.
Looking from the garden, one can see straight through the house to Long Island Sound.
Tom Armstrong, a former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, decided to build a glass structure after a fire destroyed his 1926 Georgian Revival, sparing little besides his three acres of meticulous gardens, which became the framework for the new structure. The house sits low to the ground, with 12-foot walls that mirror the height of the surrounding apple trees. Armstrong can now admire his impressive Modern art collection from indoors while surveying his own horticultural masterpiece of meandering woods and flower patches. Conversely, from the gardens, the colorful artworks project a presence outdoors. As Phifer describes it, “In the animated interplay between landscape and art, in the shifting ambiguities between inside and out, the design achieves exceptional balance.”
An 11-foot-wide glass canopy of thin steel tubes extends out from the Miesian shell and over a black granite walkway. The overhang not only provides shade, thereby keeping the house cool, but prevents the glass walls from reflecting light. In a brilliant gesture in keeping with the blurred-boundary theme, the entry axis emerges on the far side of the house as a long, thin reflecting pool that visually dissolves into the Sound.