Philip Johnson RIP

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Philip Johnson RIP

Postby Paul Clerkin » Thu Jan 27, 2005 7:01 pm

One of the best-known architects in the United States, Philip Johnson, has died at the age of 98.
Johnson designed in a range of styles during his long career, but was best-known for his use of glass.

His buildings include a glass cube in the woods of Connecticut - where he lived and died - and a greenhouse-style cathedral in Los Angeles.

Architect Daniel Libeskind said Johnson "defined the art and practice of architecture in the 20th century".

Johnson died on Tuesday evening at his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, his lawyer Joel Ehrenkranz said.

Johnson's works spanned five decades, starting in the 1940s.

They ranged from the modernism of his Connecticut home to the more fanciful work of his later years, like the AT&T Building in New York, with its feet and peak reminiscent of a piece of Chippendale furniture.

He also designed the interiors for the Seagram building in New York, where he held pioneering exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art.

The architect once said his great ambition was "to build the greatest room in the world - a great theatre or cathedral or monument", but that "nobody's given me the job".

In 1979, he won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Johnson's early political views were controversial - he was attracted to fascism after spending some time in Berlin in the 1930s.

"I have no excuse [for] such utter, unbelievable stupidity," the architect said later.

Johnson was born in 1906 in Cleveland to a wealthy family.

After graduating from Harvard University in 1927, he toured Europe, soon becoming interested in new styles of architecture.
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby Hugh » Fri Jan 28, 2005 12:31 pm

Johnson invented the idea of the Modern Movement, so all respect. Subsequently he could be characterised either as a weathervane and bandwagon-jumper, or as a shrewd judge of contemporary architectural trends, depending on your point of view.

He produced some gross buildings and designs in the 1980s. We nearly got a set of Tudorbethan office blocks next to Tower Bridge in London. An American's idea of context, or a Johnsonian attempt at wit?
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby gweilo » Fri Jan 28, 2005 3:29 pm

Just read through several of the obits. A life well lead but as you say Hugh 'weather vane' or 'bandwagon jumper' spring to mind. Never quite surfed the zeitgeist himself more padded the ground others had forged first before jumping himself. Consquently dressing himself up in deconstrucivist garb in the late 80's for instance never quite convinced. Still the fact that he behaved in the way he did and promoted architects and new trends meant that he was central to the course and development of architecture for the best part of 7 decades. Pretty impressive! Whats also admirable is he only stopped working in October! But having read through the obits, with the exception of Stephen Bayley's in the Independent there is precious little mention of the fact that Johnson was gay. A very good obit in the Chicago Tribune merits only an oblique reference that he was survived by his long time companion. Yet when you read that obituary the fact that he was gay explains so much about his character, sense of humour and approach to life! Surely a more rounded portrait would assist in putting someones personality and life into perspective? Is there really any reason nowadays to expunge details like this?
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby Paul Clerkin » Sun Jan 30, 2005 10:06 pm

Another obit....

Philip Johnson

PHILIP Johnson, whose austere "glass box" buildings and penchant for incorporating whimsical touches in his designs made him one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, has died, aged 98.

Johnson’s work, which spanned more than half a century starting in the 1940s, ranged from the modernism of his home - a glass cube in the woods, in New Canaan, Connecticut, where he died - to the more fanciful work of his later years, including the AT&T Building in New York, with its curved pediment that made it look like a giant Chippendale chest of drawers.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born on 8 July, 1906, in Cleveland, the only son of lawyer Homer H Johnson and his wife, Louise. He graduated from Harvard in 1927 with a degree in philosophy, then toured Europe and became interested in new styles of architecture.

During his tour he also discovered Hitler-style fascism, of which he became a disciple. Towards the end of his life, Johnson talked about his fascination with 1930s Berlin and the guilt he later felt.

"I have no excuse for such utter, unbelievable stupidity... I don’t know how you expiate guilt," he said.

In 1940, Johnson returned to Harvard for graduate school, studying under Marcel Breuer, before beginning his own practice. With his trademark black round-rimmed glasses that gave him an owlish look, he became one of architecture’s most recognisable figures as well as one of the most original.

Johnson coined the term "International Style" for the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, and his efforts to bring their style to the US and incorporate some of its elements in his own work changed the landscape of American architecture.

"He was probably our first and most significant architect as celebrity," Paul Goldberger, architecture critic of the New Yorker, said. "There’s no question that he used his fame for the betterment of architecture. His greatest passion was in seeing architecture, talking about it, making a stimulating dialogue about it."

Johnson once said his ambition was "to build the greatest room in the world - a great theatre or cathedral or monument. Nobody’s given me the job."

In 1980, however, he completed his great room, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, a soaring glass structure wider and higher than the Notre Dame in Paris.

His projects at times ran into criticism from preservationists and fellow architects, but he remained determined to follow the philosophy he described early in his career.

"I like the thought that what we are to do on this earth is embellish it for its greater beauty," he said, "so that oncoming generations can look back to the shapes we leave here and get the same thrill that I get in looking back at the Parthenon, at Chartres Cathedral."
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby gweilo » Mon Jan 31, 2005 10:31 am

Thanks for that Paul. See what I mean? No mention! I've posted a copy of the Chicago Tribune's obituary as its a good one but again you have to read between the lines. Glasgow's Herald (one of the UK's best independent newspapers), to it's credit, is only the second newspaper I have come across to remark on this facet of his character and yet this fact is like a rosette stone that once put in place makes sense of Johnson's life.

Philip Johnson

America's dean of architecture

From New York's AT&T building to California's Crystal Cathedral, he left imprint on our skylines

By Blair Kamin
Tribune architecture critic
Published January 27, 2005

Philip Johnson, the aristocratic, often outrageous dean of American architecture, helped launch every major building style from the 1930s onward and made his controversial mark on numerous American skylines, including Chicago's.

Johnson, 98, died of unknown causes Tuesday night at his home in New Canaan, Conn., his lawyer, Joel Ehrenkranz, said Wednesday.

An architect, curator and patron, the Cleveland native brought glass-box modernism to America, then led the postmodern revolt against that style with a skyscraper shaped like a Chippendale highboy. He then championed another stylistic shift, popularizing the fragmented forms of such notable contemporary architects as Frank Gehry. He was, at the height of his influence, known as much for his understated elegance, disarming wit and towering prestige as for his multimillion-dollar skyscrapers.

In 1979 Time magazine put him on its cover, with Johnson clutching an image of his then-revolutionary AT&T Building in New York, the so-called "Chippendale skyscraper," and gazing down as if he were Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Nearly five decades earlier, in 1932, Johnson helped mount a design show at New York's Museum of Modern Art that introduced Americans to the sleek, machine-age buildings of Germany's Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Swiss-born architect known as Le Corbusier. It was the most significant architecture show of the 20th Century, changing the world's skylines from mountains of stone to shimmering prisms of steel, glass and concrete.

"In his role as a curator, patron and practicing architect, it's hard to draw a line around the extent of his influence on architecture in the 20th Century," Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, said Wednesday.

In 1979 Johnson became the first winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, bestowed by Chicago's billionaire Pritzker family and often referred to as architecture's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Gehry, a fellow Pritzker winner and now the nation's leading architect, said Wednesday that Johnson was "a good mentor" and taught him "tough love."

"He was acerbic and difficult sometimes," Gehry said. "He was quixotic and self-deprecating at times. He was all of the human frailties and strengths. But, above all, he was brilliant and loved the profession."

Along with his business partner, former Chicagoan John Burgee, Johnson designed skyscrapers in New York, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Louisville. His only Chicago office building, known as 190 South LaSalle, features an ornate summit of cresting and finials, as well as a grandly scaled lobby with a gold-leaf ceiling.

Johnson's other projects ranged from his much-praised Glass House in New Canaan (1949), a serene steel and glass box that is part of a private estate containing several structures he designed, to the classically influenced New York State Theater at New York City's Lincoln Center to such sprawling religious structures as the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. Completed in 1980, that 4,000-seat megachurch was designed for "Hour of Power" television preacher Robert Schuller.

A sample of Johnson's singular style came in 1992 when, during a visit to Chicago, he held court at The 95th, then the name of the restaurant on the 95th floor of the 100-story John Hancock Center.

Wearing his trademark round black glasses, which were set off by his neatly clipped white hair, and turned out in a double-breasted, dark gray Armani suit, with gold cuff links by Paloma Picasso, Johnson made the restaurant's crystal chandeliers and scalloped draperies seem tawdry by comparison.

Asked what he remembered most about Mies, who emigrated from Germany to Chicago in the 1930s, Johnson replied: "Mainly the martinis. He was a four-, five-martini man. He was much more entertaining after the martinis."

For all his quick wit and the glitter of his resume, Johnson was hugely controversial.

Critics labeled him facile and easily bored, which explained, they said, why he flitted from one style to another--never mastering any of them. Johnson also was accused of anti-Semitism, drawing fire for his flirtation with fascism in the 1930s.

As Chicago scholar Franz Schulze documented in his 1994 biography of Johnson, the architect expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and even attended a 1932 rally in Potsdam, Germany, at which Hitler spoke. When Johnson returned to the United States, he roared off in a 12-cylinder Packard to Louisiana, where he offered his services as a speechwriter to the populist autocrat Huey Long, then the state's governor. (Long's people declined.)

Later in his life, Johnson dealt amicably with Jewish clients and Jewish cultural figures, even designing a nuclear reactor in Israel that was completed in 1960. In the 1980s and 1990s, he helped promote the careers of Gehry and Peter Eisenman, two of America's preeminent architects and both Jewish.

"Obviously, we forgave, but we didn't forget," Gehry said Wednesday. "Nobody forgets. But forgiveness for him was, I guess, easy. He was so powerful a force for the good in our profession that it overwhelmed all the negatives."

Born in Cleveland on July 8, 1906, to Homer and Louise Johnson, Johnson received a gift of Alcoa stock from his father, a wealthy lawyer, and went off to Harvard to study philosophy. As the once-risky stock split endlessly, he became a millionaire and indulged himself in European travel, taking his Cord convertible with him.

By 1932 that travel and his passion for architecture allowed Johnson, then ensconced at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock to put on a spectacularly successful show, "Modern Architecture-International Exhibition."

It presented the crisp, glassy structures by Mies, Le Corbusier and other European modernists, codifying those buildings as a style and stripping them of the Europeans' idealistic notion that architecture could change the way people live. The approach became known as the International Style.

"He's the guy who formulated the idea that form follows form," Schulze said. "He was interested not at all in function, but in how the thing looked, how beautiful it was. Architecture for him was almost sculpture."

During the 1940s and 1950s, under the spell of Mies, Johnson worked on the master's lordly Seagram Building in New York, an exquisitely proportioned corporate headquarters faced in bronze. Johnson designed the skyscraper's Four Seasons Restaurant, a classic power lunch venue in Manhattan.

He also produced persuasive Miesian works of his own, such as the Glass House, which owed a great debt to Mies' Farnsworth House near southwest suburban Plano.

The International Style became dominant in the post-World War II boom years--so much so that the skylines in America and around the world became interchangeable forests of glass boxes. That led to a full-scale revolt that was started in the 1960s by such architects as Robert Venturi of Philadelphia and was later joined in force by Johnson.

In 1967 Johnson took another important step that would affect his future, teaming with the more practical Burgee, who worked for the Chicago firm C.F. Murphy & Associates.

At first, influenced by minimalist sculpture, the Johnson-Burgee partnership did such distinguished variations on the steel-and-glass box as the IDS Center in Minneapolis, a 51-story dark glass tower.

Johnson-Burgee followed that success in 1976 with Pennzoil Place in Houston, a pair of twin trapezoids built by the real estate developer Gerald Hines, perhaps the single most important client in Johnson's career. Pennzoil won critical acclaim, in part, because its slant-roofed tops seemed to dance with one another as drivers whizzed by them on Houston's freeways.

Then, in 1978, Johnson shocked the world when the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. unveiled his design for its corporate headquarters in Manhattan--a stone-clad building with the "Chippendale" top and a base whose grandly scaled arches mimicked the exterior of a much smaller Italian Renaissance chapel. The historicist design, which represented a violent break from the very flat-roofed, steel-and-glass modernism Johnson had once so ardently championed, incited furious critical debate.

"A pastiche of historical references," commented Ada Louise Huxtable, then the architecture critic of The New York Times.

Whatever one thought of it, AT&T (now Sony Plaza) introduced the postmodern era of skyscrapers and other buildings that often drew heavily from historical precedents.

In this vein, Johnson designed the 40-story PPG corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh (1984), a glass version of Britain's Houses of Parliament; the 56-story RepublicBankCenter (completed in 1983 and now called Bank of America Center) in Houston, a flamboyant reprise of 17th Century Dutch architecture; and the 64-story Transco Tower in Houston (1985), a black glass tower that remains the nation's tallest office building outside a downtown.

In Chicago, Johnson's granite-clad 190 S. LaSalle St. tower, deliberately recollected the famous Burnham & Root-designed Masonic Temple that once stood at Randolph and State Streets with an ornate summit composed of gables, gingerbread cresting and finials.

Critical response to the tower, which was completed in 1987 and is Johnson's lone Chicago building, was mixed. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Paul Gapp labeled it a cartoonish echo of the Masonic Temple, lambasting its top as "a pallid, wishy-washy piece of postmodernism that cannot be taken seriously."

One year later, Johnson engaged in another stylistic flip-flop, abandoning postmodernism for the approach to design called Deconstructivism, which fragments, warps and skews orthodox, right-angled geometry.

That shift occurred in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition, "Deconstructivist Architecture," which Johnson curated. It featured eight architects, several of whom--the Los Angeles-based Gehry, the New York-based Eisenman, Zaha Hadid of London, Daniel Libeskind (then based in Milan and now New York), and Rem Koolhaas of Rotterdam, Netherlands--since have ascended to the profession's highest levels.

Although the show may have been farsighted, critics savaged what they termed Johnson's appropriation of its subject matter from younger architects.

Johnson later defended himself, saying that "the idea was as much `in the air' as the architecture itself."

Johnson's other designs included private houses, college campuses, public plazas, theaters, department stores and a civic center in Peoria. He also designed a brassy reflective glass exterior for Donald Trump's skyscraper at the southwest corner of Manhattan's Central Park in 1997. It replaced the original 1968 exterior.

After Johnson and Burgee split in the early 1990s, climaxing a long-running conflict over control of the firm, Johnson's output of large-scale buildings dwindled. But his passion for architecture did not.

He did smaller buildings, including a Deconstructivist gatehouse at his Connecticut estate. And he continued working, though at a reduced pace, until last October, when he left the firm known as Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects because of failing health. He had heart surgery in the early 1990s, an associate of his lawyer said.

During his visit to the John Hancock Center in 1992, Johnson was asked about a criticism frequently leveled at him--that his obsession with style had turned architecture into a succession of fashions rather than a field that responded to pressing human needs, such as decent housing.

"I'm only interested in the cutting edge of architecture," he replied without apology. "Why do I change all the time? I think the world changes its mind faster than I do. I'm just trying to keep up."

He was asked if he would be remembered as a great architect--"No," he replied firmly--or as a great tastemaker.

"A tastemaker, perhaps. Or as a critic, rather. Or a cultural figure," he said with typical self-mockery. "It's hard to say what I do."

Survivors include his longtime companion David Whitney and his sister, Jeanette Dempsey, who lives in Ohio
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby trace » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:41 pm

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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby MatB » Fri Apr 01, 2005 6:24 am

"or as a shrewd judge of contemporary architectural trends,"

The guy decided what contemporary was. It amazes me that so much of modernism was dictated by Johnson. It looks like he didnt get tto far away from fascism after all.
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Re: Philip Johnson RIP

Postby trace » Thu May 12, 2005 10:57 pm

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