Philip Cortelyou Johnson
(July 8, 1906– January
25, 2005) was an influential American architect
. With his thick, round-framed glasses,
Johnson was the most recognizable figure in American architecture
he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the
Museum of Modern
Art in New York City and later (1978), as a trustee, he
was awarded an American Institute of
Architects Gold Medal and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 1979.
He was a
student at the Harvard Graduate School of
When Johnson died in January 2005, he was
survived by his long-time life partner, David Whitney, who died
only a few months later, on June 12, 2005.
was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
was descended from the Jansen (a.k.a. Johnson) family of New
Amsterdam, and included among his ancestors the Huguenot Jacques Cortelyou
, who laid out the first
town plan of New Amsterdam
. He attended the
Hackley School, in Tarrytown, New
York, and then studied at Harvard University as an undergraduate, where he focused on history and philosophy,
particularly the work of the Pre-Socratic philosophers.
Johnson interrupted his education with several extended trips to
Europe. These trips became the pivotal moment of his
education; he visited Chartres, the
Parthenon, and many other ancient monuments, becoming
increasingly fascinated with architecture.
Johnson met with architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was
at the time designing the German Pavilion for the Barcelona exhibition of 1929.
meeting was a revelation for Johnson and formed the basis for a
lifelong relationship of both collaboration and competition.
Johnson returned from Germany as a proselytizer for the new
architecture. Touring Europe more comprehensively with his friends
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Henry-Russell Hitchcock to examine
firsthand recent trends in architecture, the three assembled their
discoveries as the landmark show "The International Style:
Architecture Since 1922" at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1932.
The show was profoundly
influential and is seen as the introduction of modern architecture
to the American
public. It introduced such pivotal architects as Le Corbusier
, and Mies van der
. The exhibition was also notable for a controversy:
architect Frank Lloyd Wright
withdrew his entries in pique that he was not more prominently
As critic Peter Blake
stated, the importance of this show in shaping American architecture
in the century
"cannot be overstated." In the book accompanying the show,
coauthored with Hitchcock, Johnson argued that the new modern style
maintained three formal principles: 1. an emphasis on architectural
volume over mass (planes rather than solidity) 2. a rejection of
symmetry and 3. rejection of applied decoration. The definition of
the movement as a "style" with distinct formal characteristics has
been seen by some critics as downplaying the social and political
bent that many of the European practitioners shared.
Johnson continued to work as a proponent of modern architecture,
using the Museum of Modern Art as a bully pulpit. He arranged for
Le Corbusier's first visit to the United States in 1935, then
worked to bring Mies and Marcel Breuer
to the US as emigres.
In the 1930s Johnson sympathized with Nazism
and expressed antisemitic
Regarding this period in his life, he later said, "I have no excuse
(for) such unbelievable stupidity... I don't know how you expiate
During the Great Depression
Johnson resigned his post at MoMA to try his hand at journalism and
agrarian populist politics. His enthusiasm centered on the critique
of the liberal welfare state
"failure" seemed to be much in evidence during the 1930s. As a
correspondent, Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies
in Germany and covered
the invasion of Poland
1939. The invasion proved the breaking point in Johnson's interest
in journalism or politics -- he returned to enlist in the US Army
. After a couple of self-admittedly
undistinguished years in uniform, Johnson returned to the Harvard Graduate
School of Design to finally pursue his ultimate career of
The Glass House
early influence as a practicing architect was his use of glass; his
masterpiece was the Glass
House (1949) he designed as his own residence in New Canaan,
Connecticut, a profoundly influential work.
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 sketched in initial form by
Johnson's mentor Mies. The building is an essay in minimal
structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency
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.
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 small round windows at
the rear). It contains a bathroom, library, and single bedroom with
a gilt 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
and now open to the public for
The Seagram Building
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
Johnson was pivotal in steering the
commission towards Mies, working with Phyllis Lambert
, the daughter of the CEO of
. This collaboration of architects
and client resulted in the bronze-and-glass tower on Park
Completing the Seagram Building with Mies also decisively marked a
shift in Johnson's career. After this accomplishment, Johnson's
practice enlarged as projects came in from the public realm—such as
coordinating the master plan of Lincoln Center and designing that complex's New York
Meanwhile, Johnson began to grow bored with
the orthodoxies of the International Style he had championed.
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
Place in Pittsburgh and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Crystal Cathedral, Orange County, CA
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 collections
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.
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
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 A. Schuller
's famed megachurch
, which became a Southern California
Building in Manhattan, now the Sony Building, was completed
in 1984 and was immediately controversial for its neo-Georgian
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 the first Postmodernist
statement, necessary in the
context of modernism's aesthetic cul-de-sac. In 1987, Johnson was
awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University
The institution's Hines College of Architecture
is also housed in one of Johnson's buildings.
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
- Johnson House, "The Glass House", New Canaan, Connecticut, (1949);
- John de Menil House, Houston
- The Rockefeller Guest House for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Building, in collaboration with Mies van der Rohe, New York
- Four Seasons Restaurant, New York City (1959);
- Expansion of St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington, D.C. (1960)
Museum of Art at Munson-Williams-Proctor
Arts Institute in Utica, New York (1960);
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the Museum of
- New York State Theater at Lincoln
Center, (with Richard Foster, 1964);
- Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1961, expansion in 2001);
- The New York State Pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair,
Museum in Washington D.C. (with Richard Foster; 1967);
main campus mall at the University
of Saint Thomas in Houston,
- Elmer Holmes Bobst Library of New York University);
- John F. Kennedy
Memorial Plaza in Dallas, Texas (1970);
Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1972);
Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas (1972);
- Boston Public Library (1973);
- Fort Worth Water Gardens (1974);
- Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas,
- The Neuberger Museum of Art at
SUNY Purchase College;
- Evangelist Robert Schuller's Crystal
Cathedral in Garden Grove, California (1980);
- Tata Theatre, National Centre
for the Performing Arts , Mumbai
- Metro-Dade Cultural Center in
Chapel of St. Basil and the
Academic Mall at the University of St. Thomas in Houston,
Republic Bank Center in Houston, Texas now rebranded Bank of
Transco Tower, now rebranded Williams Tower, Houston, (1983);
Cleveland Playhouse in Cleveland,
Ohio (extension) (1983);
Center in Denver, Colorado (1983);
Place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1984);
- The Gerald D.
Hines College of Architecture,
of Houston (1985);
- Comerica Bank Tower, Dallas,
- Puerta de Europa, Madrid, Spain)
John Burgee Architects, Philip Johnson Consultant;
- 190 South LaSalle in Chicago John Burgee Architects, Philip Johnson
- 191 Peachtree Tower, Atlanta,
Georgia John Burgee Architects, Philip Johnson
- 101 California Street, San Francisco, California; Johnson/ Burgee Architects;
- University of St Thomas St Basil Chapel (with John Manley,
- AEGON Center in Louisville, Kentucky (1993), John Burgee
Architects, Philip Johnson Consultant.
- Comerica Tower in Detroit, Michigan (1993), John Burgee
Architects, Philip Johnson Consultant.
- Visitor's Pavilion, New Canaan CT (1994).
- Turning Point, Case Western
Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio (1996).
- Philip-Johnson-Haus, Berlin,
- First Union
Raton, Florida (2000).
- John F. Kennedy Memorial. Philip Johnson, Memorial Architect
- Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson: Life and Work,
Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996.
- Splendor in the Glass - TIME Article Retrieved
Nov. 3, 2007.
- Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect, 1997
- "Extending the Legacy" Alexandra Lange article
on the preservation of the Glass House, from the November 2006
issue of Metropolis
- Philip Johnson article at Great Buildings
Online. Retrieved Sep. 27, 2003.
- Philip Johnson bio on the Pritzker Architecture Prize
website. Retrieved Sep. 27, 2003.
- Philip Johnson on NewsHour (1996). Retrieved
Sep. 27, 2003.
- Heyer, Paul, ed. (1966). Architects on Architecture: New
Directions in America, p. 279. New York: Walker and
- Johnson is mentioned in the song Thru These Architect's
Eyes on the album Outside by
- One hour interview with Charlie Rose at Google Video (July 8,
- Other interviews with or about Phillip Johnson on
Charlie Rose at Google Video
- Calvin Tomkins's profile of
Philip Johnson in the May 23, 1977 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
- Jenkins, Stover, et al. The Houses of Philip Johnson,
New York: Abbeville
Publishing Group , 2001.