Sunday, July 08, 2018

Born Today In 1906, American Architect Philip C. Johnson


Philip C. Johnson was born today, July 8, in 1906.  He was an American architect. He is 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, which was designed for AT&T, and 190 South La Salle Street in Chicago. In 1978, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and in 1979 the first Pritzker Architecture Prize.

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

Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He grew up in New London, Ohio and 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 German architect 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.


In 1930 Johnson joined the architecture department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There he arranged for American visits 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., 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. 

In 1934, Johnson met Jimmie Daniels (left), a cabaret singer. Daniels was Johnson's first serious relationship. The relationship lasted only one year, and Johnson would recall later that "a terrible man stole him away—who had better sex with him, I gather. But I was naughty. I went to Europe and I would never think of taking Jimmie along."

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.

In 1936, in the depths of the Great Depression, he left the Museum of Modern Art for a brief venture into journalism and politics. For a time he supported the extreme populist Governor of Louisiana Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin, and traveled to Berlin as a correspondent for Coughlin's radically populist and often anti-Semitic newspaper Social Justice. In the newspaper, Johnson expressed, as the New York Times later reported, "more than passing admiration for Hitler." Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and, sponsored by the German government, covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. Many years later he told his biographer, Franz Schulze, "You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd," and told of being thrilled at the sight of "all those blond boys in black leather" marching past the Führer.

In 1941, at the age of 35, Johnson abandoned politics and journalism and enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he studied with Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius. In 1941, Johnson designed and actually built his first building, a house that still exists 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. It was used by Johnson to host social events and was eventually submitted as his graduate thesis; he sold the house after the War, and it was eventually purchased by Harvard in 2010 and restored by 2016.

After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Johnson enlisted in the Army. He was investigated by the FBI for his contacts with the German government and his support for Coughlin, who opposed American intervention in the war, but he was cleared for service and entered the army. He spent his army service during the war in the United States.

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.
The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut

The Glass House is a 56 foot by 32 foot glass rectangle, sited 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. The New York Times described it in 2005 as "one of the 20th century's greatest residential structures."

Johnson continued to add to the Glass House estate during each period of his career. He added a small pavilion with columns by the lake in 1963, an art gallery set into a hillside in 1965, a postmodern sculpture gallery with a glass roof in 1970; a castle-like library with a rounded tower in 1980; a concrete block tower dedicated to his friend Lincoln Kirstein, the founder of the New York City Ballet; a chain-link "ghost house" dedicated to Frank Gehry.

After completing the Glass House, he completed two more houses in New Canaan in a style similar to that of Mies; the Hodgson House (1951) and the Wiley House (1953). In 1953 he also created an architectural sculpture garden for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Johnson joined Mies van der Rohe as the New York associate architect for the 39-story Seagram Building (right) (1956). Johnson was pivotal in steering the commission toward 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 building was designed by Mies.The interiors of the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants were designed by Johnson.

Following the Seagram Building He built several smaller projects in a more personal, expressive style, with ornament touches and features far from the sobriety of the modernist style; the Synagogue of Port Chester New York, with a plaster vaulted ceiling and narrow colored windows (1954–56); the Art Gallery of the University of Nebraska with an array of symmetrical arcs (1963); (the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana with a mushroom-shaped roof covered with wood shingles (1960). In 1960 he also built a severely modernist monastery building for in the expansion of St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, D.C.

In the same period, Johnson won commissions to coordinate the master plan of Lincoln Center, New York City's new arts center, and to design that complex's New York State Theater, built in a massive and unadorned modernist style. He also undertook his first foreign commission, the modernist art museum in Bielefeld, Germany, with a modernist facade clad in dark red stone, and a modernist colonnade of slender pillars (1968).

In 1967 Johnson entered a new phase of his career, founding a partnership with architect John Burgee. Johnson and Burgee won commissions for a series of new skyscrapers. including the IDS Center in Minneapolis (1973), and the two matching towers, facing each other like bookends, of Pennzoil Place in Houston, Texas. The two towers of Pennzoil Place have sloping roofs covering the top seven floors and are trapezoidal in form, created to leave two large triangual aras on the site, which are occupied with glass-covered lobbies designed like greenhouses. This idea was widely copied in skyscrapers in other cities.

In the late 1970s Johnson applied landscape architecture to two significant projects in Texas. The Fort Worth Water Gardens opened in 1974, creating an urban landscape where visitors experience water in distinct ways. And in 1977 Johnson completed the spiraling white chapel and meditation garden at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas.

In 1980, Johnson completed a new building in a startling new style; The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, a soaring glass neo-Gothic megachurch for the Reverend Robert H. Schuller. It became a Southern California landmark. In 2012 it was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to become the cathedral for Orange County.

It was one thing to build a glass cathedral in California, and another to build a corporate headquarters skyscraper in the center of Manhattan, the showcase of modern architecture. Shortly after the Crystal Cathedral, working in collaboration with John Burgee, he completed one of his most recognizable buildings, the AT&T building (later named the Sony Building, and now 550 Madison Avenue shown at right). Built between 1978 and 1982, a skyscraper with an eight-story high arched entry and a split pediment at the top which resembled an enormous piece of 18th-century Chippendale furniture. It was not the first work of Postmodern architecture- Robert Venturi and Frank Gehry had already built smaller scale postmodern buildings, and Michael Graves had completed the Portland Building in Portland Oregon (1980–82) 2 years before the AT&T Building; and most of the building was in a traditional modernist style; but because of its Manhattan location and size it became the most famous example of postmodern architecture.

At about the same time as the AT&T Building, Johnson and Burgee completed other remarkable postmodern skyscrapers; the Bank of America Center (Formerly Republic Bank Center) in Houston (1983) and the PPG Place, the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company (1979–84). Both buildings combined modern materials, construction and scale with suggestions of traditional architecture. The forms of PPG Place suggested the neogothic tower of the Houses of Parliament in London, while the Bank of America Center appeared inspired, on a colossal scale, the stepped houses of Flemish Renaissance architecture.


In 1986 Johnson and Burgee had moved their offices into one of their new buildings, the Lipstick building, the popular name of the skyscraper they built at 885 Third Avenue in New York, and given its nickname because of its resemblance to the color and shape of a stick of lipstick. Burgee, who wanted to play a larger role in the firm negotiated a smaller part for Johnson, and in 1988 the firm's name was changed to John Burgee Architects with Philip as the design consultant. By 1991 Johnson had split with Burgee and opened up his own practice.

Working with John Burgee, Johnson did not confine himself to a single style, and was comfortable mixing elements of modernism and postmodernism. For the Cleveland Play House, he built a romanesque brick structure; for the Architecture School at the University of Houston, he said that his model was the French neoclassical architecture of the 18th-century architect French Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. His skyscrapers on the 1980s were skillfully constructed and clad in granite and marble, and usually had some feature borrowed from historic architecture. In New York he designed the Museum of Television and Radio, (now the Paley Center for Media) (1991).

Johnson, at the age of 98, died in his sleep while at his Glass House retreat on January 25, 2005. He was survived by his partner of 45 years, David Whitney (with Johnson above), who died later that year at age 66.

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