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Encyclopedia > Philip C. Johnson

Philip Cortalyou Johnson (July 8, 1906 (Cleveland, Ohio) – January 25, 2005 (New Canaan, Connecticut)) was a distinguished American architect. The first director of the architecture department at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) in 1946, and later a trustee, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978 and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979.

Perhaps his most famous work is the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, a transparent frame structure initially designed as his own home for his master's thesis in 1949, and in which he resided until his death. The estate on which the Glass House was built continued to grow and now boasts a number of unique designs, including a building made out of chain-link fencing, a sculpture gallery with a glass ceiling, a house of brick mirroring his glass house, and a building with no conventionally shaped walls (having only two corners).

Johnson's later works include:

Two of Atlanta's most prominent skyscrapers are Johnson Designs: 191 Peachtree Tower (http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/?buildingID=239) and One Atlantic Center (http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/?buildingID=1875) (formerly called the IBM Tower).

As a major force in two architectural styles (international and postmodern), Philip Johnson was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, especially in skyscraper architecture.

Johnson wrote (Heyer, 1966):

The painters have every advantage over us today...Besides being able to tear up their failures—we never can seem to grow ivy fast enough—their materials cost them nothing. They have no committees of laymen telling them what to do. They have no deadlines, no budgets. We are all sickeningly familiar with the final cuts to our plans at the last moment. Why not take out the landscaping, the retaining walls, the colonnades? The building would be just as useful and much cheaper. True, an architect leads a hard life—for an artist.
...Comfort is not a function of beauty... purpose is not necessary to make a building beautiful...sooner or later we will fit our buildings so that they can be used...where form comes from I don't know, but it has nothing at all to do with the functional or sociological aspects of our architecture.

Involvement with Fascism

One controversial aspect of Johnson's career was his active promotion of fascism in the 1930s (his late 20s and early 30s). He wrote essays in support of Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, prominent political figures involved in fascism, and Johnson tried to start a fascist party himself. He travelled to Nuremberg for Adolf Hitler's 1938 rally, and to Poland after Germany invaded it in 1939, where he wrote:

The German green uniforms made the place look gay and happy. [...] There were not many Jews to be seen. We saw Warsaw burn and Modlin being bombed. It was a stirring spectacle.

Finally, with investigation of him by the FBI and the pending involvement of the United States in World War II, Johnson abandoned politics completely and later renounced fascism. A focus on the aesthetic to the exclusion of all other concerns became a characteristic of his philosophy; in a 1973 interview, he said:

The only thing I really regret about dictatorships isn't the dictatorship, because I recognize that in Julius's time and in Justinian's time and Caesar's time they had to have dictators. I mean I'm not interested in politics at all. I don't see any sense to it. About Hitler—if he'd only been a good architect!


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Philip Johnson



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