Philip Johnson

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Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson.2002.FILARDO.jpg
Philip Johnson at age 95 in his office in the Seagram Building, Manhattan with his model of a 30' by 60' sculpture created for a Qatari collector. (2002)
Born Philip Cortelyou Johnson
(1906-07-08)July 8, 1906
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Died January 25, 2005(2005-01-25) (aged 98)
New Canaan, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard Graduate School of Design
Occupation Architect
Awards Pritzker Prize (1979)
AIA Gold Medal (1978)
Buildings IDS Tower, PPG Place, Crystal Cathedral

Philip Cortelyou Johnson (July 8, 1906 – January 25, 2005) was an American architect, best known for his works of Modern architecture, including the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, and his works of postmodern architecture, particularly 550 Madison Avenue (Formerly the ATT&T Building and then the Sony Building), designed with John Burgee.In 1978 he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and in 1979 the first Pritzker Architecture Prize.[1]

Early life and the Museum of Modern Art Exhibition[edit]

Chapel of St. Basil (1992) on the Academic Mall at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 8, 1906, the son of a prosperous Cleveland lawyer, Homer H. Johnson. He was descended from the Jansen family of New Amsterdam, and included among his ancestors the Huguenot Jacques Cortelyou, who laid out the first town plan of New Amsterdam for Peter Stuyvesant. He attended the Hackley School, in Tarrytown, New York, and then studied as an undergraduate at Harvard University where he focused on learning Greek, philology, history and philosophy, particularly the work of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Upon completing his studies in 1927, he made a series of trips to Europe, visiting the landmarks of classical and Gothic architecture, and joined Henry Russell Hitchcock, a prominent architectural historian, who was introducing Americans to the work of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and other modernists. In 1928 he met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was at the time designing the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The meeting formed the basis for a lifelong relationship of both collaboration and competition [2] [3]

In 1930, Johnson joined the architecture department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There he arranged for American visits by by Gropius and Le Corbusier, and negotiated the first American commission for Mies van der Rohe. In 1932, working with Hitchcock and Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, he organized the first exhibition on Modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932. The show and their simultaneously published book "International Style: Modern Architecture Since 1922" played an important part in introducing modern architecture to the American public. When the rise of the Nazis in Germany forced the modernists Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe to leave Germany, Johnson helped arrange for them to come to work in the United States. [4]

In 1936, in the depths of the Great Depression, he left the Museum of Modern Art for a brief venture into journalism and politics. he briefly supported the extreme populist Governor of Louisiana Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin, and traveled as a correspondent to Berlin, and expressed, as the New York Times later reported, "more than passing admiration for Hitler" [5] but had no success in politics or journalism. As a correspondent, Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. His biographer, Franze Schultze, wrote in 1994" In politics he proved to be a model of futility. He was never much of a political threat to anyone. still less an effective doer of either political food or political evil."[6] When the United In 1941, at the age of 35, Johnson gave up politics and journalism and enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied with Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. In 1941, just before the United States entered The War. Johnson, as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, designed and actually built his first building, a house still existing at 9 Ash Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house, strongly influenced by [[Mies van der Rohe, has a wall around the lot which merges with the structure. After the United States entered World War II| in December 1941, Johnson enlisted in the Army. He was investigated by the FBI briefly because of his earlier political activities, but was cleared for service. He spent the war in uniform in the United States.[7] [8]

The Modernist Period[edit]

In 1946, after he completed his military service, Johnson returned to the Museum of Modern Art as a curator and writer. At the same time, he began working to establish his architectural practice. He built a small house, in th style of Mies, in Saaponack, Long Island in 1946. This was followed by one of this most famous buildings, which he built for himself; the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, completed in 1949, which has become a landmark of modern architecture.[9]

The Glass House[edit]

Main article: Glass House
A model of the Glass House (1949) on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

Johnson's early influence as a practicing architect was his use of glass. The Glass House (1949) that he designed as his own residence in New Canaan, Connecticut was a profoundly influential work, but "universally viewed as having been derived from" the Farnsworth House, according to Alice T. Friedman. Johnson curated an exhibit of Mies van der Rohe work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947, featuring a model of the glass Farnsworth House.[10]

The concept of a Glass House set in a landscape with views as its real "walls" had been developed by many authors in the German Glasarchitektur drawings of the 1920s, and already realized by Johnson's mentor Mies. The building is an essay in minimal structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection.

The house sits at the edge of a crest on Johnson's estate overlooking a pond. The building's sides are glass and charcoal-painted steel; the floor, of brick, is not flush with the ground but sits 10 inches above. The interior is an open space divided by low walnut cabinets; a brick cylinder contains the bathroom and is the only object to reach floor to ceiling.[11]

Johnson continued to build structures on his estate as architectural essays. Offset obliquely fifty feet from the Glass House is a guest house, echoing the proportions of the Glass House and completely enclosed in brick (except for three large circular windows at the rear, set in wooden frames, 5 feet in diameter, which reveal the interior of the building that was originally designed with a window in each of three rooms, two guest bedrooms at each end and a study in the middle). It now contains a bathroom, library, and single bedroom with a vaulted ceiling and shag carpet. It was built at the same time as the Glass House and can be seen as its formal counterpart. Johnson stated that he deliberately designed it to be less than perfectly comfortable, as "guests are like fish, they should only last three days at most".

Later, Johnson added a painting gallery with an innovative viewing mechanism of rotating walls to hold paintings (influenced by the Hogarth displays at Sir John Soane's house), followed by a sky-lit sculpture gallery. The last structures Johnson built on the estate were a library and a reception building, the latter, red and black in color and of curving walls. Johnson viewed the ensemble of one-room buildings as a total work of art, claiming that it was his best and only "landscape project."

The Philip Johnson Glass House is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and now open to the public for tours.

The Seagram Building[edit]

Main article: Seagram Building

After completing several houses in the idiom of Mies and Breuer, Johnson joined Mies van der Rohe as the New York associate architect for the 39-story Seagram Building (1956). Johnson was pivotal in steering the commission towards Mies by working with Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of the CEO of Seagram. The commission resulted in the iconic bronze-and-glass tower on Park Avenue. The structure was designed by Mies while the lobby and other internal aspects were designed by Johnson[12] including the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants[13]

Completing the Seagram Building with Mies also decisively marked a shift in Johnson's career. After this accomplishment, Johnson's practice grew as projects came in from the public realm, including coordinating the master plan of Lincoln Center and designing that complex's New York State Theater. Meanwhile, Johnson began to grow bored with the orthodoxies of the International Style he had championed.

Postmodern Period[edit]

Although startling when constructed, the glass and steel tower (indeed many idioms of the modern movement) had by the 1960s become commonplace the world over. He eventually rejected much of the metallic appearance of earlier International Style buildings, and began designing spectacular, crystalline structures uniformly sheathed in glass. Many of these became instant icons, such as PPG Place in Pittsburgh and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.

Johnson's architectural work is a balancing act between two dominant trends in post-war American art: the more "serious" movement of Minimalism, and the more populist movement of Pop Art. His best work has aspects of both movements. Johnson's personal art collection reflected this dichotomy, as he introduced artists such as Mark Rothko to the Museum of Modern Art as well as Andy Warhol. Straddling between these two camps, his work was seen by purists of either side as always too contaminated or influenced by the other. With his thick, round-framed glasses, Johnson was the most recognizable figure in American architecture for decades. As an art collector Johnson's eclectic eye supported avant-garde movements and young artists often before they became widely known. His collection of American art was strong in Abstract expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Neo-Dada, Color Field, Lyrical Abstraction, and Neo-Expressionism and he often donated important works from his collection to institutions like MoMA, and other important private museums and University collections like the Norton Simon Museum, the Sheldon Museum of Art and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University among many others.

From 1967 to 1991 Johnson collaborated with John Burgee. This was by far Johnson's most productive period — certainly by the measure of scale — he became known at this time as builder of iconic office towers, including Minneapolis's IDS Tower opened 1972. That building's distinctive stepbacks (called "zogs" by the architect) created an appearance that has since become one of Minneapolis's trademarks and the crown jewel of its skyline. In 1980, the Crystal Cathedral was completed for Rev. Robert H. Schuller's famed megachurch, which became a Southern California landmark.

The AT&T Building completed in 1984[14] in Manhattan, now the Sony Building, was immediately controversial for its neo-Georgian pediment (Chippendale top) characteristic for Postmodern architecture and close - in concept - to the 1982 Humana Building by Michael Graves. At the time, it was seen as provocation on a grand scale: crowning a Manhattan skyscraper with a shape echoing a historical wardrobe top defied every precept of the modernist aesthetic: historical pattern had been effectively outlawed among architects for years. In retrospect other critics have seen the AT&T Building as a flagship of Postmodernism, necessary in the context of modernism's aesthetic cul-de-sac. In 1987, Johnson was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Houston. The institution's Hines College of Architecture is also housed in one of Johnson's buildings.

Johnson's publicly held archive, including architectural drawings, project records, and other papers up until 1964 are held by the Drawings and Archives Department of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, the Getty, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Personal Life[edit]

Johnson died in his sleep while at his Glass House retreat in 2005. He was survived by his partner of 45 years, David Whitney,[15][16][17][18] who died later that year at age 66.[19]

Johnson was gay, and has been called "the best-known openly gay architect in America."[20] He came out publicly in 1993.[20]

Controversy over early political views[edit]

From 1932 to 1940, Johnson openly sympathized with extreme populist movements in the US and the Nazi regime in Germany. He expressed antisemitic ideas and was involved in two extreme populist movements, those supporting Father Coughlin and Huey Long. [21] Hoping for a populist candidate for President, Johnson reached out to Huey Long and Father Coughlin.[22] Following trips to Nazi Germany where he witnessed the attack on Poland and contacts with German intelligence, the Office of Naval Intelligence investigated him for his political views but was not found to be a threat and he served honorably in the military. [22][23][24] Regarding this period in his life, he later said, "I have no excuse (for) such unbelievable stupidity... I don't know how you expiate guilt."[25] In 1956, Johnson attempted to do just that and donated his design for a building of worship to what is now one of the country's oldest Jewish congregations, Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, New York. According to one source "all critics agree that his design of the Port Chester Synagogue can be considered as his attempt to ask for forgiveness" [26] for his admitted "stupidity" in being a Nazi sympathizer. The building, which stands today, is a "crisp juxtaposition of geometric forms" [27]

In popular culture[edit]

He is mentioned in the song "Thru These Architect's Eyes" on the album Outside (1995) by David Bowie.

He appears in Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect, a 2003 documentary about Kahn's father, Louis Kahn.[28]

Philip Johnson's Glass House, along with Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, was the subject of Sarah Morris's 2010 film Points on a Line. Morris filmed at both sites over the course of several months, among other locations including The Four Seasons Restaurant, the Seagram Building, Mies van der Roheʼs controversial 860–880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, and Chicagoʼs Newberry Library. Morris utilized The Four Seasons, a place that Philip Johnson practically used as his personal office, as the meeting point between the two architects. The restaurant remains a site of projection and desire – active as a site of negotiation and display. Morrisʼs film is both a record of preservation of two structures and a document of power plays that left a mark in the pragmatic idealism of the late modern period.


Notes and Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Goldberger, Paul (May 23, 1979). "Philip Johnson Awarded $100.000 Pritzker Prize: Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  2. ^ New York Times obituary, "Philip Johnson, Architecture's Restless Intellect, dies at 98", by Paul Goldberger, January 27, 2005
  3. ^ Saint, Andrew (January 29, 2005). "Philip Johnson — Flamboyant Postmodern Architect Whose Career Was Marred by a Flirtation with Nazism". The Guardian. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  4. ^ Taschen 2016, p. 314.
  5. ^ New York Times obituary, January 27, 2005
  6. ^ cited in New York Times obituary, January 27, 2005
  7. ^ New York Times Obituary, January 27, 2005
  8. ^ "PHILIP JOHNSON". IDS Ccenter. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  9. ^ New York Times Obituary, January 27, 2005
  10. ^ Friedman, Alice T., Women and the Making of the Modern House, p 130, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press (2006), ISBN 978-0-300-11789-9, retrieved via Google Books on August 8, 2010
  11. ^ Alfirevic Djordje, Simonovic-Alfirevic Sanja. Interpretations of Space Within Space Concept in Contemporary Open-Plan Architecture / Primena koncepta prostor u prostoru u savremenoj arhitekturi otvorenog plana. Arhitektura i urbanizam (Belgrade), No.42 (2016), pp. 24–40.
  12. ^ "Seagram Building: Profile". Entertainment. New York Magazine. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Four Seasons & Brasserie Restaurants, Seagram Building, NYC". NYIT Architectural History. YouTube. May 4, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  14. ^ Goldberger, Paul (January 27, 2005). "Philip Johnson Is Dead at 98; Architecture's Restless Intellect." New York Times, p. A1. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  15. ^ Pierce, Lisa, "Through the Looking Glass", August 1, 2010, pp 1, A4, The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut
  16. ^ Gutoff, Bija, "Philip Johnson: A Glass House Opens", at Apple website, no date given, retrieved August 8, 2010
  17. ^ Kennedy, Randy (June 14, 2005). "David Whitney, 66, Renowned Art Collector, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2009. 
  18. ^ [ Bourdon, David (May 1970). "What's Up in Art, The Castelli Clan". Life. Accessed June 9, 2010.
  19. ^ Glass House history chapter 1
  20. ^ a b George Haggerty, ed. (2000). Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. 2. Taylor & Francis. p. 498. ISBN 9780815318804. 
  21. ^ Stern, Robert A. M. (May 2005). "Philip Johnson: An Essay by Robert A.M. Stern". Architectural Record. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  22. ^ a b Wortman, Marc (April 4, 2016). "Famed Architect Philip Johnson's Hidden Nazi Past". Vanity Fair. New York, NY. Retrieved 12 April 2016. 
  23. ^ Varnelis, Kazys, Cornell University (November 1994). "We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson's Politics and Cynical Survival". Journal of Architectural Education. Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Inc. 49 (2): 82–. doi:10.2307/1425400. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  24. ^ Varnelis, Kazys, Cornell University (November 1994). "We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson's Politics and Cynical Survival". Journal of Architectural Education. Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Inc. 49 (2): 82–. doi:10.2307/1425400. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  25. ^ Varnelis, Kazys (November 1994). "We Cannot Know History — Philip Johnson's Politics and Cynical Survival". Journal of Architectural Education. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  26. ^ Geva, Anat. "An Architect Asks For Forgiveness: Philip Johnson's Port Chester Synagogue" (PDF). Symposium of Architecture, Culture and Spirituality. ACS Forum. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  27. ^ {{cite book|last1=Stolzman|first1=Henry|title=Synagogue Architecture in America: Faith, Spirit & Identity
  28. ^ "Film and Architecture 'My Architect'". Retrieved June 24, 2015. 


  • Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson: Life and Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Bony, Anne (2012). L'Architecture Moderne (in French). Larousse. ISBN 978-2-03-587641-6. 
  • Taschen, Aurelia and Balthazar (2016). L'Architecture Moderne de A à Z (in French). Bibliotheca Universalis. ISBN 978-3-8365-5630-9. 
  • Prina, Francesca; Demaratini, Demartini (2006). Petite encyclopédie de l'architecture (in French). Solar. ISBN 2-263-04096-X. 
  • Hopkins, Owen (2014). Les styles en architecture- guide visuel (in French). Dunod. ISBN 978-2-10-070689-1. 
  • De Bure, Gilles (2015). Architecture contemporaine- le guide (in French). Flammarion. ISBN 978-2-08-134385-6. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]