View Full Version : Architect Philip Johnson Dies

January 26th, 2005, 12:59 PM
From ABC News:

Philip Johnson Dead

After a Long Illness, Famed Modernist Dies at Home

Jan. 26, 2005 —*Architect Philip Johnson, who is credited with bringing some of the ideas of European modern design to the United States and transforming them into a uniquely American form, has died at his home in New Canaan, Conn. He was 98.

January 26th, 2005, 01:16 PM

I'd been thinking about how old he was recently, but I didn't think he would go so soon... RIP to an architectural pioneer.

January 26th, 2005, 01:19 PM
Here's a more extensive article:

Architect Philip Johnson dies at age 98


NEW YORK -- Philip Johnson, the innovative architect who promoted the "glass box" skyscraper and then smashed the mold with daringly nostalgic post-modernist designs, has died. He was 98.

Johnson died Tuesday night in New Canaan, Conn., where he lived, according to Joel S. Ehrenkranz, his lawyer. John Elderfield, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, also confirmed the death Wednesday.

Johnson's work ranged from the severe modernism of his own home to the Chippendale-topped AT&T Building in New York City, now owned by Sony.

He and his partner, John Burgee, designed the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., an ecclesiastical greenhouse that is wider and higher than Notre Dame in Paris; the RepublicBank in Houston, a 56-story tower of pink granite stepped back in a series of Dutch gable roofs; and the Cleveland Playhouse, a complex with the feel of an 11th century town.

"Architecture is basically the design of interiors, the art of organizing interior space," Johnson said in a 1965 interview.

He expressed a loathing for buildings that are "slide-rule boxes for maximum return of rent," and once said his great ambition was "to build the greatest room in the world - a great theater or cathedral or monument. Nobody's given me the job."

In 1980, however, he completed his great room, the Crystal Cathedral. If architects are remembered for their one-room buildings, Johnson said, "This may be it for me."

He got even more attention with the AT&T Building in New York City, breaking decisively with the glass towers that crowded Manhattan. He created a granite-walled tower with an enormous 90-foot arched entryway and a fanciful top that seemed more appropriate for a piece of furniture.

The building generated controversy, but it marked a sharp turn in architectural taste away from the severity of modernism. Other architects felt emboldened to experiment with styles, and commissions poured into the offices of Johnson-Burgee.

Most were corporate palaces: the Transco II and RepublicBank towers in Houston; a 23-story, neo-Victorian office building in San Francisco, graced with three human figures at the summit; a mock-gothic glass tower for PPG Industries in Pittsburgh.

"The people with money to build today are corporations - they are our popes and Medicis," Johnson said. "The sense of pride is why they build."

But his large projects at times ran into a buzz saw of criticism from local preservationists and even fellow architects. In 1987, he was replaced as designer of the second phase of the New England Life Insurance Co. headquarters in Boston after residents complained about the project's size and style.

Critics unearthed a quotation he had made at a conference a couple of years earlier: that "I am a whore and I am paid very well for high-rise buildings." Johnson said later his choice of words was unfortunate and he only meant that architects need to be able to compromise with developers if they want to see them built.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born July 8, 1906, in Cleveland, the only son of Homer H. Johnson, a well-to-do attorney, and his wife, Louise. After graduating with honors from Harvard in 1927 with a degree in philosophy, he toured Europe and became interested in new styles of architecture.

That interest became his life's work in 1932, when Johnson was appointed chairman of the department of architecture of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That same year, he mounted an influential exhibition, "The International Style: Architecture 1922-1932."

Johnson was especially enthusiastic about the work of the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who called for designs that express a building's structure in the most direct and economical way possible. Under such a doctrine, if a building is supported by steel columns, they should be left visible instead of being masked behind stone or brick.

January 26th, 2005, 01:22 PM
98 years old? Wow he sure lasted long enough to see some of his projects become a reality. Well he sure made his history in many cities. Bless him.

January 26th, 2005, 02:05 PM
OMG just the other day I read that he retired at 90 something years old.
I think he retired at 98.

January 26th, 2005, 02:27 PM

10/2004 Gold Medalist Philip Johnson, 98, Retires from Practice


The 1978 AIA Gold Medalist, 1979 Pritzker Prize winner, and 20th-century master of Modern American architecture, Philip Johnson, FAIA, who recently turned 98, announced from his iconic Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., on October 7 that he is withdrawing from architecture practice and from his firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects. “I am leaving the firm in good hands to my partner of 10 years and design collaborator for over 27, Alan Ritchie, who will continue our quality and design excellence,” Johnson said in a statement to the press. “Alan is now representing me, and I am confident he will continue the legacy of Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects.”

“We will miss Philip, but we are fortunate the firm is stronger than ever,” Alan Ritchie, AIA, said. “Philip and I have created a firm steeped in Philip’s design philosophy, and one that integrates influences from me, an experienced design staff, several who have worked with us for well over 10 years, and new design talent capable of exciting architecture.”

Known among architects and the public alike for his “wit, flair for performance, creativity, and ability to integrate what is best in architecture,” Johnson retires after 60 years in practice. He worked three days a week in the firm’s New York City office until last fall, and more recently maintained a vocal presence from his home in New Canaan.

“If it is true that the unthinkable has occurred, that Philip Johnson has in fact retired, one can only wish him Godspeed. He deserves time for rest and reflection after having lived to the fullest an extraordinary life,” said AIA Executive Vice President/CEO Norman L. Koonce, FAIA. “Unlike the man, however, the genius of his work will never rest. It will continue to challenge us and be part of our exploration of our own values and our art. This in itself is a kind of immortality, a living gift to succeeding generations.”

“Philip has said he hopes to be remembered for his lifelong passions for architecture and art history and for his constant desire for change,” Ritchie said. “The public, fellow architects, students of architecture, and architecture critics will, no doubt, sculpt his epitaph in frank and eloquent terms.”

TLOZ Link5
January 26th, 2005, 05:11 PM

I'd been thinking about how old he was recently, but I didn't think he would go so soon...

Yeah, me too. Weird, isn't it?

RIP Philip.

January 26th, 2005, 05:24 PM
Now, perhaps, Mr. Johnson can have his long-overdue discussions with Mr. Wright. May they both rest in peace.

January 26th, 2005, 07:00 PM
OMG just the other day I read that he retired at 90 something years old.
I think he retired at 98.

Philip Johnson never retired he was a practicing architect untill his death. Despite his status as the world's greatest living architect he was a humble person, and I recommend reading his Biography by Franz Shultze. He is one of the greatest people ever to live.

January 26th, 2005, 07:09 PM
I was in NYC for the weekend, and as I slogged by Lincoln Center in the snow I remembered this photo.

January 26th, 2005, 07:23 PM
January 26, 2005

Philip Johnson, Elder Statesman of U.S. Architecture, Dies at 98


Philip Johnson.

Mr. Johnson with his Glass House in July, 1949 in New Canaan, Conn.

Audio Slide Show (http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/arts/20050126_JOHNSON_AUDIOSS/index.html)

Philip Johnson, at once the elder statesman and the enfant terrible of American architecture, died yesterday at the Glass House, the celebrated estate he built for himself in New Canaan, Conn., said David Whitney, his companion of 45 years. He was 98 years old.

Often considered the dean of American architects, Mr. Johnson was known less for his individual buildings than for the sheer force of his presence on the architectural scene, which he served as a combination godfather, gadfly, scholar, patron, critic, curator and cheerleader. His 90th birthday, in July 1996, was marked by symposiums, lectures, an outpouring of essays in his honor and back-to-back dinners at two venerable New York institutions he had played a major role in creating: the Museum of Modern Art, whose department of architecture and design he joined in 1930, and the Four Seasons Restaurant, which he designed as part of the Seagram Building in 1958.

Mr. Johnson was the first winner of the Pritzker Prize, the $100,000 award established in 1979 by the Pritzker family of Chicago to honor an architect of international stature. In 1978, he won the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, the highest award the American architectural profession bestows on any of its members.

His long career was a study in contradictions. For all his honors, Mr. Johnson was in some ways always an outsider in his profession. His own architecture received mixed reviews, and frequently startled both the public and his fellow architects. The style of his work changed frequently, and he was often accused of pandering to fashion and designing buildings that were facile and shallow.

Yet he created several buildings, including the Glass House, the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, that are widely considered among the architectural masterworks of the 20th century, and for his entire career he maintained an involvement with architectural theory and ideas as deep as that of any scholar.

As an architect, he made his mark arguing the importance of the esthetic side of architecture, and claimed that he had no interest in buildings except as works of art. Yet he was so eager to build that he willingly took commissions from real-estate developers who refused to meet his own esthetic standards, and liked to refer to himself, with only partial irony, as a whore. And in the 1930's, this man who believed that art ranked above all else took a bizarre and, he later conceded, deeply mistaken detour into right-wing politics, suspending his career to work on behalf of Huey Long and later Father Charles Coughlin, and expressing more than passing admiration for Adolf Hitler.

Mr. Johnson's foray into Fascism was over by the time the United States entered World War II, and two decades later he sought to make public atonement to Jews by designing a synagogue in Port Chester, N.Y., for no fee. But to the end of his life the contradictions continued. With his dignified bearing and elegant, tailored suits, he looked every bit the part of a distinguished, genteel aristocrat, but he played the celebrity culture of the 1980's and 90's as successfully as a rock star. He was far and away the best-known living architect to the public, and his crisply outlined, round face, marked by heavy, round black spectacles of his own design, was a common sight on television programs and magazine covers.

With the exception of his brief involvement in right-wing politics, all of Philip Johnson's careers - historian, museum director and designer - revolved around architecture. He began his professional life as a writer, historian and curator and did not enter architecture school until he was 35. Even when he became one of the nation's most eminent practicing architects, he continued to be a major patron of institutions and of younger architects, whose work he followed with avid interest.

He began his career as an ardent champion of Modernism, but unlike many of the movement's early proselytizers, he changed with the times, and his own work showed a major movement away from beginnings that were heavily influenced by the architect Mies van der Rohe. In the late 1950's, just after he had collaborated with Mies on the design of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, he introduced elements of classical architecture into his buildings, beginning a long quest to find ways of connecting contemporary architecture to historical form. It was a quest that would begin with highly abstracted versions of classicism in the 1960's and culminate in a much more literal use of the architectural forms of the past in his revivalist skyscrapers of the 1980's.

That phase of Mr. Johnson's career included such well-known monuments as the classically detailed pink granite AT& T Building (now the Sony Building) on Madison Avenue, which he completed in 1983 with John Burgee, then his partner; the Republic Bank Tower (now NCNB Center) in Houston, which used elements of Flemish Renaissance architecture; the Transco Tower in Houston, which recapitulated the setback forms of a romantic 1920's tower in glass, perhaps his finest skyscraper; and the PPG Center in Pittsburgh, a reflective glass tower whose Gothic form copied the shape of the tower of the Houses of Parliament in London.

Institutional clients also got their share of Mr. Johnson's fixation with historical form: he designed a Romanesque structure in brick for the Cleveland Play House and a classical building based on the designs of the French visionary architect Étienne-Louis Boullée for the architecture school of the University of Houston.

In the late 1980's Mr. Johnson's restless mind, having played a major role in shifting American architecture toward Postmodernism, with its re-use of traditional elements, moved on yet again. Fascinated by the intense, highly abstract work of a group of younger Modernist architects who were to become known as the Deconstructivists, Mr. Johnson began to incorporate elements of their architecture into his own work.

He was particularly entranced with the buildings of the Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, whose complex, seemingly irrational forms would appear to be the antithesis of the cool, rational, ordered architectural world of Mr. Johnson's first mentor, Mies, and much of his late work reflected Mr. Gehry's influence.

Mr. Johnson, an urbane, elegant figure, was perhaps the best-known New York architect since Stanford White. Born to wealth, he and Mr. Whitney, a curator and art dealer, lived well - for many years in a town house on East 52nd Street that Mr. Johnson had originally designed as a guest house for John D. Rockefeller 3d, then in an elaborately decorated apartment in Museum Tower above the Museum of Modern Art - and always on weekends in the famous Glass House compound.Mr. Johnson had lunch daily amid other prominent and powerful New Yorkers at a special table in the corner of the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant. His guest was as likely to be a young architect in whose work he had taken an interest, and for years his table functioned as a kind of miniature architectural salon.

In the evenings, he was frequently seen at exclusive social events - for years by himself, and in the last decade, as he felt greater ease in making his relationship with Mr. Whitney public, with his companion. He was among the few architects whose comings and goings were considered worthy of notice in the gossip columns.

He had been an active art collector since the days when, as a student traveling in Germany, he purchased a pair of Paul Klees directly from the artist. Eventually he came to be a busy collector of contemporary art: advised by Mr. Whitney, he filled his walls with paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns when these artists were just gaining public attention, and he amassed one of the most complete collections of paintings by Frank Stella in private hands.

Mr. Johnson not only lived and ate in places of his own design, he worked in them as well. Until 1986 his office was in the Seagram Building, the great skyscraper he designed with Mies, who was its principal architect. Mr. Johnson practiced alone there for some years, then collaborated with Richard Foster of Greenwich, Conn., for a time, and in 1967 formed a partnership with John Burgee.

It was this partnership that transformed Mr. Johnson from a scholar-architect designing small to medium-size institutional buildings for well-to-do clients to a major force in American commercial architecture. Mr. Burgee's arrival coincided with the firm's movement toward a number of major and widely acclaimed skyscraper projects, including the I.D.S. Center in Minneapolis and Pennzoil Place in Houston. Mr. Johnson's own leanings were always toward the esthetic issues involved in design, and in Mr. Burgee he found a partner who could serve not only as a colleague in design but also as an executive overseeing the kind of large architectural office required to produce major skyscrapers.

As if to mark Mr. Burgee's role, the Johnson-Burgee firm moved in 1986 into the elliptical skyscraper at 885 Third Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets, popularly known as the Lipstick Building, which the partners had designed together. But the partnership was not to last long beyond the move: Mr. Burgee, eager to occupy center stage, negotiated a more limited role for Mr. Johnson, and in 1991 exercised the prerogative he had as chief executive of the firm and eased Mr. Johnson out altogether.

It proved an unwise decision, since the firm, crippled by an arbitration decision unrelated to Mr. Johnson, soon went into bankruptcy, all but ending Mr. Burgee's career. Mr. Johnson, his ties with his former firm having been severed, had no liability, and he went on to rent a smaller space in the Lipstick Building, gleefully hanging out his shingle and declaring himself in business as a solo practitioner at the age of 86. Before long, he had several commissions, including a cathedral in Dallas, and his career had recharged itself completely.

Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born on July 8, 1906, in Cleveland, the son of Homer H. Johnson, a well-to-do lawyer, and Louise Pope Johnson. Supported by a fortune that consisted largely of Aluminum Company of America stock given him by his father, Mr. Johnson went to Harvard to study Greek, but became excited by architecture and spent the years immediately after his graduation in 1927 touring Europe and looking at the early buildings of the developing Modern architecture movement.

He teamed up with Henry-Russell Hitchcock, at that time the movement's chief academic partisan in the United States, and their travels together resulted in their book "The International Style," published in 1932 and now a classic. "We have an architecture still," is how Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hitchcock concluded the book, which played a major role in introducing Americans to the work of European modernists ranging from Le Corbusier to Mies to Walter Gropius, then barely known here.

In 1930, before "The International Style" was published, Mr. Johnson joined the department of architecture at a new institution in New York, the Museum of Modern Art. He moved the museum quickly to the forefront of the architectural avant-garde, sponsoring exhibitions on contemporary themes and arranging for visits by Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies, for whom he also negotiated his first American commission.

Mr. Johnson left the museum in 1936 to pursue his political agenda full-time, dividing his time between Berlin, Louisiana and his family's home in Ohio. By the summer of 1940, his infatuation with Fascist politics had faded, although as Franz Schulze, his biographer, wrote in 1994, it was never clear whether he withdrew because he changed his mind or because he had failed to achieve political success. "In politics he proved to be a model of futility," Mr. Schulze wrote.. "He was never much of a political threat to anyone, still less an effective doer of either political good or political evil."

In 1941, at the age of 35, Mr. Johnson turned once and for all to the field that would occupy him for the rest of his life, and enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to begin the process of becoming an architect.

While at Harvard, Mr. Johnson did what few students, even those of great means, have been able to do - he actually built the project he designed as a thesis. It was a house in the style of Mies, its lot surrounded by a wall that merges into the structure, and it still stands at 9 Ash Street in Cambridge, Mass.

After wartime service in the United States Army - although the Federal Bureau of Investigation had investigated Mr. Johnson for his Fascist leanings, the Government decided he was sufficiently repentant to wear the uniform - he returned in 1946 to the Museum of Modern Art. At the same time he began slowly to build up an architectural practice of his own, combining it with his career as a writer and curator.

He designed a small, boxy house, also highly influenced by Mies, for a client in Sagaponack, L.I., in 1946, but his first significant building, and still perhaps his most famous, was not for an outside client at all but, like the Cambridge house, for his own use: it was the Glass House at New Canaan, completed in 1949 with its counterpoint, a brick guest house.

The serene Glass House, a 56-foot by 32-foot rectangle, is generally considered one of the 20th century's greatest residential structures. Like all of Mr. Johnson's early work, it was inspired by Mies, but its pure symmetry, dark colors and closeness to the earth marked it as a personal statement, calm and ordered rather than sleek and brittle.

Over the years, Mr. Johnson added to the Glass House property, turning it into a compound that became a veritable museum of his architecture, with buildings representing each phase of his career. A small, elegant white-columned pavilion by the lake was built in 1963; an art gallery, an underground building set into a hill, with pictures from Mr. Johnson's extensive collection of contemporary art set on movable panels, in 1965; the sculpture gallery of 1970, a sharply defined, irregular white structure covered with a greenhouse-like glass roof; a library of stucco with a rounded tower that from a distance looks like a miniature castle (1980); a concrete-block tower, as much a piece of sculpture as a building, dedicated to his lifelong friend Lincoln Kirstein, the writer and New York City Ballet founder(1985); a "ghost house" of chain-link fence, honoring Mr. Gehry, who often used this material (1985), and finally, what Mr. Johnson called "the Monsta," an irregularly-shaped building of deep red with sharply curving walls, finished in 1995.

The "Monsta" - Mr. Johnson could not quite bring himself to call one of his buildings a monster, but he felt its shape resembled it - is set at the gate of the estate and was designed to serve as a visitors center once the public was admitted to the property after his death. (Although Mr. Johnson kept an office in New York, working part time there until a year ago, he and Mr. Whitney have spent most of their time at the Glass House in recent years.) The Glass House compound is willed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which plans to operate it as a museum.

In addition to Mr. Whitney, Mr. Johnson is survived by a sister, Jeannette Dempsey of Cleveland, now 102.

After the Glass House was completed in 1949, Mr. Johnson received other residential commissions, including a number of houses in New Canaan. His first work at very large scale, however, was the Seagram Building, designed in association with Mies, though Mr. Johnson himself did the elegant Four Seasons restaurant within. The deep bronze Seagram, completed in 1958, is considered by many critics to be the finest postwar skyscraper in New York.

By that time, however, Mr. Johnson was already becoming impatient with the limitations of the strict, austere Miesian design vocabulary. He began to explore a more decorative sort of neo-Classicism, which led to such designs as the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth (1961), the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964) and the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University, designed in 1965 but not completed until 1973.

His work in that period led the architectural historian Vincent Scully to refer to him as "admirably lucid, unsentimental and abstract, with the most ruthlessly aristocratic, highly studied taste of anyone practicing in America today."

"All that a nervous sensibility, lively intelligence and a stored mind can do, he does,"Mr. Scully said.

Mr. Johnson's active art collecting brought him a nearly continuous stream of commissions to design museums, and his ties to the Museum of Modern Art brought him the request to design the museum's 1951 and 1964 expansions beyond its original 1939 building, including the sculpture garden. He also designed the original Asia House gallery on East 64th Street, now the Russell Sage Foundation, as well as museums in Utica, N.Y., Fort Worth, Lincoln, Neb., and Corpus Christi, Tex.

Despite his record as a museum designer and his long association with the Modern, the museum's board, of which Mr. Johnson was a member, decided in 1978 to hire a different architect to design its new West Wing. The job went to Cesar Pelli, and Mr. Johnson was deeply hurt.

For some time, relations cooled between him and the museum he had supported nearly since its founding, but eventually they resumed, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Whitney moved into the apartment tower above the museum designed by Mr. Pelli. In 1984, as a tribute to Mr. Johnson as its founding curator, the museum's department of architecture and design named its exhibition space the Philip Johnson Gallery. And the museum marked Mr. Johnson's 90th birthday with a pair of exhibitions: one of notable works of art that the architect had donated to the museum, and another of works given by architects in Mr. Johnson's honor.

The beginnings of Mr. Johnson's late career as a major commercial architect were not in New York, however, but in Minneapolis, through an immense project in 1972 for Investors Diversified Services, a financial conglomerate that has since become part of American Express. A square-block complex containing a 51-story glass tower roughly shaped like an octagon, a hotel and a retail wing placed around a central glass-covered court, the design blended Mr. Johnson's interest in angular forms with a sensitive urbanism. It quickly became a focal point for downtown Minneapolis, and was the first of a generation of what might be called social skyscrapers, towers that did not merely house office workers but contained a myriad of public spaces as well.

Among the many observers who were impressed by the I.D.S. tower was Gerald D. Hines of Houston, a real estate developer who had begun his career as a builder of warehouses but by the early 1970's had sought to make a new mark as the developer of much larger buildings by prominent architects. Mr. Hines hired Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee to design Pennzoil Place, a twin-towered complex of glass in downtown Houston that was completed in 1973. One of the most widely known skyscrapers in the country, Pennzoil Place consists of two trapezoidal towers placed so as to leave two triangular areas open on the site. These areas were covered with steel and glass trusses to create greenhouse-like lobbies; as a further formal gesture, each tower was given a slanted roof for the top seven floors.

Pennzoil Place would prove widely influential, but five years later Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee moved away from it with the design for one of the most startling skyscrapers of the last generation, the AT& T (now Sony) headquarters in New York, the so-called "Chippendale skyscraper" of granite with a split pediment resembling an antique highboy.

During the 1980's Mr. Johnson and Mr. Burgee also designed major skyscrapers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas, most of which, following the lead of the AT& . Building, were lavishly finished in granite and marble and imitated some aspect of the architecture of the past.

Mr. Johnson also designed the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., and the Museum of Television and Radio on West 52d Street in New York, and with Mr. Burgee produced plans through the 1980's for office towers for Times Square. Widely criticized, they have yet to be built. On his own, since the dissolution of his partnership with Mr. Burgee, he produced several projects for Donald J. Trump, including the glass tower at 1 Central Park West and projects for the Riverside South residential development; plans for a cathedral for a gay congregation in Dallas; and an office building for Berlin.

Although he gave up formal scholarship when he became an architect, Mr. Johnson continued to write and lecture frequently. He constant theme, unchanged through all his stylistic variations, was his belief in the need to view architecture as an art - something that separated him, in fact, from the socially minded early Modernists whose cause he once championed so ardently.

In a famous lecture in 1954 at Harvard titled "The Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture," he said, "Merely that a building works is not sufficient." Later, in an oft-quoted remark, he said, "I would rather sleep in Chartres Cathedral with the nearest toilet two blocks away than in a Harvard house with back-to-back bathrooms."

Years later, Mr. Johnson told an audience, "We still have a monumental architecture. To me, the drive for monumentality is as inbred as the desire for food and sex, regardless of how we denigrate it."

But he ended by arguing: "Monuments differ in different periods. Each age has its own.

"Maybe, just maybe, we shall at last come to care for the most important, most challenging, surely the most satisfying of all architectural creations: building cities for people to live in."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 27th, 2005, 02:21 PM
January 27, 2005


A Tastemaker Propelled by Curiosity


Philip Johnson, left, and the architect who influenced him early on, Mies van der Rohe, a few years before finishing the Seagram Building.

At the height of his power, Philip Johnson's tentacles seemed to reach into every corner of his profession. As the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art's department of architecture and design, he almost single-handedly introduced American audiences to European Modernist buildings; he was a tireless promoter of emerging architectural talents, from Mies van der Rohe to Frank Gehry. And although he often played down his creative talent, he produced a number of 20th-century landmarks in his long, eclectic career, among them the 1949 Glass House, rightly considered a masterpiece of American design.

Yet his greatest talent of all may have been his unquenchable curiosity, which prevented him, and by extension, his audience, from becoming mired in any specific architectural style or movement.

In architectural terms, Mr. Johnson's output was uneven. His most memorable works are almost without exception his most intimately scaled, and they evoke a remarkable range of references that with hindsight, imbues them with unexpected subtlety. The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., for example, was famously inspired by Mies's earlier design for the Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., but its sleek Modernist appearance and slender brick base also suggested a traditional home with its skin stripped off.

That catholic sensibility was also evident in his 1950 design for Dominique and John de Menil's residence in Houston, whose blank brick facade masked a more transparent interior that opened onto flowing gardens, echoing, in its small way, the Janus-like vision of precedents like the 17th-century French estate Vaux le Vicomte.

But what most separates his work from more austere influences like Mies is its thinly veiled hedonism. The beauty of the Glass House, for example, arises from the quality of the glass, which is less about transparency than about the creation of a subtle interplay of visual images, from reflections of the surrounding trees to the movement of bodies inside. Similarly, the polished interiors he designed for the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan, with beaded steel curtains that conjure up a woman's slip, make it one of the sexiest rooms in the city 45 years after its completion.

That bias toward aesthetics over social issues had been clear since his 1932 "International Style" show at the Modern, which he organized at the age of 26 with Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The show, which celebrated the work of such pillars of early Modernism as Mies, Le Corbusier and J. J. P. Oud, electrified an audience that was unfamiliar with Modernist achievements in Europe. But its relentless focus on form tended to overlook the deeper social goals that inspired such architecture. While Mr. Johnson may have made such work palatable to the American cultural elite, he also emptied it of some of its meaning.

Nonetheless, that narrow devotion to aesthetics may also have been what allowed Mr. Johnson, in his later career, to slip so easily from one architectural style to the next. When the glow of late Modernism began to fade sometime in the early 1970's, Mr. Johnson was one of the first to abandon that vision in favor of postmodernism, a movement that he helped spawn and that eventually landed him on the cover of Time, clutching a model of his AT&T tower with its granite Chippendale top.

A decade later, Johnson was exploring the more fragmented forms of architects like Frank Gehry, which led to a short-lived collaboration on an unbuilt guest house for the insurance magnate Peter B. Lewis. His forays into so-called deconstructivism yielded the canted walls and curved shapes of a visitors center at his estate in New Canaan.

Mr. Johnson's fickleness often led to accusations that he was more an arbiter of architectural tastes than a creative groundbreaker. And in truth, few of his buildings from the 1970's and 80's could be considered distinguished. Most - banal corporate towers done on the cheap - seemed a winking testament to his famous quip that all architects are whores.

Yet there were exceptions. The angular glass surfaces of his 1976 Pennzoil Place, for example, frame a thin sliver of sky that gives a palpable tension to what are otherwise a pair of conventional corporate towers. His Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., completed in 1980, is a mesmerizing composition of faceted glass planes.

And in many ways, Mr. Johnson's restlessness may have been his greatest asset: not so much as an architect as in his effect on the culture of architecture. During his long reign, no one was a more eloquent advocate for architecture, and few were more open to new ideas. Nor has any American architect been more indefatigable in promoting new talents, many benefiting from his patronage.

Mr. Johnson accomplished much of this through his position at the Modern, where he continued to curate shows until he was into his 80's. The 1988 show on deconstructivism, which he organized with Mark Wigley, may not have had the impact of his earlier successes, but it underlined Mr. Johnson's zest for exploring contemporary architectural ideas at an age when most would be content to play the role of dignified figurehead.

His connection to the Modern was only the most visible aspect of his stature as architectural tastemaker, a position enhanced by his aristocratic charm and social connections. It was Mr. Johnson, for instance, who famously introduced Mies to the Seagram heiress Phyllis Lambert in the early 1950's; soon afterward she commissioned Mies and Mr. Johnson to design the landmark Seagram Building. Later, he was an ardent supporter of emerging talents then like Peter Eisenman and Mr. Gehry. His dinners at the Century club, meanwhile, were coveted as a means of entree into the tight-knit world of New York high culture, the kind of circles that guaranteed large-scale, high-profile commissions.

Conversely, the architects he ignored sometimes felt as though the power he wielded could be devastating. But Mr. Johnson felt free to follow talent and ideas wherever they led him. That blazing openness to the new - that ease in gliding from style to style, from one milieu to another - seems virtually impossible to replace.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 27th, 2005, 04:06 PM
RIP Philip Johnson. I will check out that book Stern.

January 31st, 2005, 06:41 AM
January 31, 2005


Form Follows Fascism


http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/t.gifHE death last week of Philip Johnson, the nonagenarian enfant terrible, brought 20th-century architecture to a symbolic close. Even Mr. Johnson's friends sometimes doubted that he was an architect of the first rank, but friend and foe alike agreed that he was an emblematic figure of his time.

But emblematic of what? In death, his role in American culture will come into sharper focus, and it's a darker picture than many have thought.

Traditionally, Mr. Johnson is presented as the great champion of modern architecture - organizer of the landmark 1932 Museum of Modern Art show on the International Style, and architect of the Glass House on his Connecticut estate, which quickly came to symbolize American modernism. He is equally celebrated for abandoning classical modernism in the late 50's and adopting in the decades that followed a succession of styles that mirrored the changing taste of the time.

It hardly mattered that many of his skyscrapers were corporate schmaltz; he was an enlivening, generous figure, a man who charmingly described himself as a "whore" as he picked the corporate pocket. Always ready to challenge the earnest, Mr. Johnson, who understood Warhol as well as Mies, became both an icon and an iconoclast.

Only one aspect marred this picture: His embrace of fascism during the 1930's, which was mentioned only in passing in most obituaries. He later called his ideological infatuation "stupidity" and apologized whenever pressed on the matter; as a form of atonement, he designed a synagogue for no fee. With a few exceptions, critics typically had little interest in the details, granting Mr. Johnson a pass for a youthful indiscretion.

Then, in 1994, Franz Schulze's biography presented this period of Mr. Johnson's life in some depth. Mr. Schulze's account was as sympathetic as possible - and many reviews of the book still played down the importance of Mr. Johnson's politics - but it was clear that views of Mr. Johnson's import for American culture would change significantly.

Philip Johnson did not just flirt with fascism. He spent several years in his late 20's and early 30's - years when an artist's imagination usually begins to jell - consumed by fascist ideology. He tried to start a fascist party in the United States. He worked for Huey Long and Father Coughlin, writing essays on their behalf. He tried to buy the magazine American Mercury, then complained in a letter, "The Jews bought the magazine and are ruining it, naturally." He traveled several times to Germany. He thrilled to the Nuremberg rally of 1938 and, after the invasion of Poland, he visited the front at the invitation of the Nazis.

He approved of what he saw. "The German green uniforms made the place look gay and happy," he wrote in a letter. "There were not many Jews to be seen. We saw Warsaw burn and Modlin being bombed. It was a stirring spectacle." As late as 1940, Mr. Johnson was defending Hitler to the American public. It seems that only an inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation - and, presumably, the prospect of being labeled a traitor if America entered the war - led him to withdraw completely from politics.

Today, any debate over an important figure with a fascist or Communist background easily becomes an occasion for blame games between right and left. Mr. Johnson is no exception. Morally serious people can have different views of his personal culpability.

But what's essential is to let the shadow fall - to acknowledge that fascism touched something important in his sensibility. Throughout his life, he was an ardent admirer of Nietzsche. His understanding of the great philosopher was surely deeper than that of the Nazis, but he was overly enchanted by the idea of "a superior being," "the will to power" and Nietzsche's view of art. And he loved the monumental.

In an interview published in 1973, long after he renounced fascism, Mr. Johnson 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!" In discussing Rome, he contrasted the poor artistic achievements of the democratically elected Republic with those of earlier regimes. "So let's not be so fancy-pants about who runs the country," he concluded. "Let's talk about whether it's good or not."

Mr. Johnson's observation was refreshingly hard-nosed about art's relation to politics: good politics is not now and never will be a prerequisite for good art. But his emphasis on the aesthetic as the only important value in art was remarkably cold-blooded. His main regret seems to be that contemporary republics have failed to create monuments that ravish the senses.

He never became a fascist architect. But he was probably one of those artists - among them many Communists - whose philosophical sensibilities were gutted by the experience of the 30's and World War II. Afterward, he lived more than ever for the stylish surface, appearing uncomfortable with large-minded ideas even when his buildings reached for the sky.

Perhaps as a consequence, his imagination developed no particular center. Nothing was intractable or non-negotiable. He was remarkably free. He could toy, sometimes beautifully, with history. He liked a splash. He was a playful cynic, cultivating success even as he winked at its vulgarity. If someone should complain, well, the problem lay not in the artist but in the fallen world.

Philip Johnson now seems like an emblematic figure partly because he appears to have been happily, marvelously, provocatively, disturbingly hollow. It is an underlying fear of Western culture, one that has lasted since World War II, that there is no larger or ennobling content to mine. Mr. Johnson's main flaws as an artist - his tastes for razzle-dazzle and overweening scale - are equally the weaknesses of American secular culture. His main strengths - his openness to change, playfulness and urbane rejection of the Miss Grundys of the world - are equally it strengths.

The beautiful Glass House will remain Mr. Johnson's signature work. It is the transparent heart of a collection of eclectic buildings in New Canaan, Conn. It's a dream house, a stylish stage set. It floats upon the land, eliding boundaries between inside and outside. It seems full of emptiness. It's not really a place to live, but was still Mr. Johnson's essential home. That uneasy stylishness deserves emphasis. Philip Johnson lived in a glass house. He threw stones, too.

Mark Stevens is the art critic of New York magazine and the co-author of "De Kooning: An American Master."

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

February 4th, 2005, 11:30 AM
In his 98 and 1/2 years Philip Johnson touched the lives of hundreds “ if not thousands “ of fellow architects, heads of corporations, colleges and museums, residential clients, architecture students, along with the serious public. Now that he is gone, eOculus, the online magazine of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, invites its members and their friends and colleagues to cast their minds back to any contacts they may have had with Philip, to form part of a special issue of eOculus. Please e-mail
recollections/anecdotes to me at kristen@ArchNewsNow.com, no later than Tuesday, February 8.

Kristen Richards, Editor-in-Chief
Oculus / eOculus
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February 5th, 2005, 11:52 PM
February 6, 2005

Modernist Living: A Primer


Philip Johnson outside the Glass House in 1998.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/a.gif FEW months after Bill and Pamela Matassoni bought and began restoring Philip Johnson's 1956 Boissonas house in New Canaan, Bill got a call from the architect himself - "Do you need help?" - and a visit the next Saturday. With the Matassonis in tow, Mr. Johnson walked through the brick and glass villa and started describing the complex floor plan in scholarly architectural terms. "You realize I was breaking up the Miesian cube when I built this," he explained. The Matassonis exchanged puzzled glances, and Mr. Matassoni replied, "Oh, yeah, we knew that."

The Boissonas house was one of six Modernist homes Mr. Johnson designed in New Canaan, and his favorite aside from his own, the Glass House.

While Mr. Johnson is known for his skyscrapers and homes throughout the country, his life and work were strongly tied both to New Canaan and to New Haven, where he designed buildings on the campus of Yale University and taught, critiqued and lectured at its architecture school. He died in New Canaan at the Glass House on Jan. 25, at age 98.

In New Canaan, over the years, architecture's enfant terrible became a favorite son. It was Mr. Johnson's Glass House that brought international attention to New Canaan's early modern houses built by the Harvard Five, a group of students and teachers from Harvard's Graduate School of Design that included Mr. Johnson, his close friend Landis Gores, the Bauhaus luminary Marcel Breuer, and his Harvard classmates John Johansen and Eliot Noyes.

The stripped-down Modernist homes they built for themselves and for a handful of adventurous clients in the corporate and art worlds drew criticism for many years in New Canaan, which tended to be conservative, but more recently, residents have rallied to preserve and restore the homes, which are privately owned but known all over the world.

In addition to the New Canaan houses, Mr. Johnson designed a noted glass-walled barn addition to the Burton Tremaine Jr., Estate in Madison.

His buildings at Yale - all constructed in the 1960's - include the Epidemiology and Public Health Building and the Kline Science Center, a complex of three buildings, the Geology Laboratory, the Chemistry Building and the critically acclaimed Kline Biology Tower, known to Yale students as "the Tootsie Roll building" for its massive brick-faced columns.

More recently Mr. Johnson's firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, based in New York, finished work on the Stonington Borough Fire House, a state-of-the-art brick firehouse. It was the firm's last project that was completed before Mr. Johnson's death.

Philip Johnson moved here from New York City just after World War II, buying five acres of land. He was drawn to New Canaan's rolling landscape, the old stone walls, and land that was cheap, even by standards in 1946.

He lived in the Glass House since it was completed in 1949, and was later joined there by his companion of 45 years, David Whitney.

During the last decade, according to Mr. Johnson's official biographer, Hilary Lewis, he often stayed in his New York apartment during the four-day, and more recently, three-day work week, but "his main home, in his mind, was always the Glass House," Ms. Lewis said.

He lived there full time in the last year of his life.

"People forget that he was actually involved in the community," said Janet Lindstrom, executive director of the New Canaan Historical Society, where Mr. Johnson served as a board member from 1965 to 1973.

"He did have an office here for a few years, was often spotted in town, and if you went on a regular basis to the Blue Water Cafe, you saw him at his reserved table."

Not only was Johnson a familiar presence in the community, the Glass House became a gathering place for architects, artists and writers in his circle.

During a tour - another impromptu one - with a reporter in 1999, he pointed out the Sculpture Gallery, noting that it was Frank Gehry's favorite building on the site and stood on a spot where he said Andy Warhol had set up a band that drew complaints from neighbors.

Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed one house in New Canaan, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe both visited Mr. Johnson at the Glass House. Wright, during his first visit, made his oft-quoted remark: "I don't know whether I'm supposed to take my hat off or leave it on! Am I indoors or outdoors?"

Mies had dinner with Mr. Johnson there as well. While Mies was undeniably the single most important influence on Mr. Johnson's design of the house, Vincent Scully of Yale noted that Johnson had classicized Mies's influence, putting his indelible stamp on the home. The two pre-eminent Modernists profoundly affected each others' lives. They went on to collaborate on the Seagram building.

Mr. Johnson studied the classics and philosophy at Harvard as an undergraduate and returned to Harvard's Graduate School of Design for an architecture degree at age 38, but it was at Yale where he became, in the words of the architecture dean, Robert A. M. Stern, "an overriding spirit" for more than half a century.

"He went to Harvard twice," Ms. Lewis said, "but his greatest affection was for Yale."

He taught at Yale, and contributed to Perspecta, the graduate school's design annual.

He occasionally taught Vincent Scully's course on Modern architecture when the professor could not be there, Mr. Stern said.

He reinforced his fealty to Yale during a lecture in which he denounced its rival, saying: "I would rather sleep in the nave of Chartres cathedral with the nearest john six blocks down the street than I would in a Harvard house with back-to-back bathrooms."

Residents in New Canaan paid tribute to Mr. Johnson in the impromptu manner that he conducted tours of his home.

People gathered at a cocktail party for the New Canaan historical society recalled him as a "generous, witty, charming, spoiled brat" whose playful, irreverent spirit reigned well into what for other people would be considered old age.

The furniture designer Jens Risom, a contemporary of Mr. Johnson's who moved to New Canaan in 1949, recounted a visit by the architect, who was looking for furniture for Seagram Building. To test a day bed, Mr. Risom said, "He back up a few steps, took a running start, and flopped onto the bed."

He added, laughing, "Well, I didn't expect the flying start."

Bill Matassoni, said in a phone interview that Mr. Johnson had visited his Boissonas house again, and invited him and his wife over to see the visitor's center for the Glass House.

Ms. Matassoni joined him in his Mercedes, and Mr. Matassoni followed them in his car. The drive, like his homes, was seemingly boundless.

"He ran every stop sign," Mr. Matassoni recalled.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 30th, 2005, 12:24 PM
In my opinion, the atrocity was not the extermination of the Jews. That was the inevitable result of the atrocity that began in 1933, when a government began to remove the rights of some of its people, first as citizens, and ultimately as human beings. Mr Johnson was certainly aware of Crystalnacht in 1938.

March 31st, 2005, 11:04 AM
To anyone who may be confused by the ambiguous post above, and its seeming disconnect to the thread:

The post was ostensibly partially deleted to remove content that was unrelated to the thread. In fact, what was removed was any mention of Mr Johnson. Ironically, the post now makes absolutely no sense.

My original post, in its entirety, presented my views on why Mr Johnson's association with Fascism is relevant to the topic. Among other things, it stated that architecture is a record of a culture, and as such, the social aspects of the life of an influential architetect are important to understant his work.

Some may find this an unpleasant topic, but it belongs in the discussion.

March 31st, 2005, 11:22 AM
A long time before I knew that I'd become interested in architecture,my Dad took me to New York and I saw a building that would forevermore change the way I looked at cities.
I saw the Seagram Building,bathed in morning sunlight,it's blueness changed to brilliant white,and I could not take my eyes off it.The sounds of the City dissolved as I stared,transfixed and openmouthed.I crossed Park just to walk on the plaza,to touch the skin of the thing.I think that it was the first building that ever captured me so completely.
I remember getting a feeling that I was touching greatness,sharing space with a work of art,that a secret privilege had been given to me-the appreciation of a beautiful structure-and I was suddenly able to actually SEE a building,to be aware of something that was so well thought out that it instantly posessed a powerful presence and announced its beauty by transcending its' surroundings.I might have been nine years old.
From then on,I had to know more,so I put in a lot of time at the library,and I learned about Philip Johnson and his interpretation of a modern structure.I also learned about Frank Lloyd Wright,Mies,Sanford White,Cass Gilbert,Modernism,Post-Modernism and cities.The Art and Architecture section of the Rochester Public Library was my home on snowy,after school afternoons.
I'd check out books on architecture,bios of architects,books about cities;I learned about the history of skyscrapers,how they were made,why they were built.I saw tons of photos and came to recognize an architect's works,what his signature style was.I could recognise the skylines of dozens of cities,name their tall buildings and tell you who designed them.I subscribed to "Architectural Digest" and kept up on who was building what,and where.
It's an obsession I've carried for nearly a half century,and I thank Philip Johnson (and Mies) for planting the Seagram Building down in front of me on that fateful New York Morning and awakening within a young boy the wonders of the World of Architecture.It was a great gift.
He's always been near the top of my personal List of Famous People I'd Like to Meet,just below Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lennon.

May 1st, 2005, 01:01 AM
04.26.05 Special Issue:
Remembering Philip Johnson, FAIA

First Annual Mary Buckley Scholarship Dinner for Pratt Institute honoring Philip Johnson, October 20, 1993, Sony Club (clockwise from left): Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA; Joseph M. Parriott; Father Perry; Mary Buckley; Eugene Kohn, FAIA; The Very Reverend James Parks Morton; Robert Siegel, FAIA; Massimo Vignelli; Dr. Thomas Schutte; Philip Johnson, FAIA; Frances Halsband, FAIA.

by Susan Chin, FAIA, President, AIA NY Chapter
April 2005

Philip Johnson, FAIA, a brilliant and provocative commentator and practitioner, created some of America's most iconic 20th-century buildings. He was a tremendous influence on the American public, civic leaders, and the architectural community on issues of style and design. In 1978, he received the AIA Gold Medal, the highest national award bestowed on any of the AIA's members. In 1979, he was the first winner of the Pritzker Prize. As a tribute to his contribution to the field of architecture, the AIA New York Chapter has assembled this volume of personal recollections of Johnson's wit and visionary influence.

In 1998, Johnson helped launch the AIA New York Chapter's campaign for the Center for Architecture, which opened in October 2003. His 1979 Pritzker Prize acceptance speech continues to inspire us today as we revel in the success of the Center and prepare for the 150th anniversary of the AIA: "It is no wonder to me that whole civilizations are remembered by their buildings; indeed some only by their buildings….We may, for example, want to rebuild America. We surely can if we want to. We can do anything. We have the skill, the materials, the labor force. Heaven knows, we have the need: our ugly surroundings, our inadequate housing, our sad slums are testimony. We can, if we but will; architecture, as in all the world's history, could be the art that saves."


Click here http://www.aiany.org/eOCULUS/2005/04.26.05.html to see what the following contributors have to say:

Abdullah, AIA, Yasin
Ahuja, AIA, Raj
Andersen, Kurt
Barkley, Joel
Booth, Donald A.
Bromm, Hal
Cetera, AIA, Michael
Chavooshian, AIA, J. Dean
Dalland, FAIA , Todd
David, FAIA, Theo.
Dixon, FAIA, John Morris
Feingold, AIA, Jeffery
Feireis, Kristin
Gauld, AIA, David
Graves, FAIA, Michael
Griffin, AIA, Percy C.
Hall Kaplan, Sam
Halsband, FAIA, Frances
Higgins, Assoc. AIA, Bruce
Hines, Gerald D.
Holub, AIA, Martin
Hotaling, Jim
Hoyt, AIA, Nat
Jenkins, Stover
Joseph, FAIA, Wendy Evans
Kliment, FAIA, Stephen A.
Krasnow, FAIA, Peter
Lee, AIA, John
Lewis, Hilary
Lustig Cohen, Elaine
Mass, Marvin A.
McAuliffe, RA, Jim
Milne, Victoria
Mount, Christopher
Murno, AIA, Michael J.
Mutchnik Maurer, FAIA, Laurie
Ohlhausen, FAIA, Rolf Oppenheimer, FAIA, Herbert
Porter, Don
Riley, FAIA, Ronnette
Riley, AIA, Terry
Ritchie, AIA, Alan
Samton, FAIA, Peter
Schumacher, Thomas L.
Seinuk, P.E., Ysreal A.
Smith, Chad
Spector, FAIA, Michael Harris
Sydness, AIA, K. Jeffries
Talarico, Wendy
Talo, AIA, Tapani
Townsend, Peter
Vidler, Anthony
Weintraub, AIA, Myles
Yablon, AIA, Stephen
Zaknic, Ivan

May 30th, 2008, 09:03 AM
May 25, 2008
A Tiny Masterpiece, Unloved, Faces Threat

By ANDY NEWMAN (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/n/andy_newman/index.html?inline=nyt-per)


FOR $3.1 million in New Canaan, you can get a middling, multi-humped colonial colossus of no great distinction but sufficient grandeur to assuage your distress at not living quite as well as your hedge-fund-managing neighbors who paid twice as much.

Or you could get a house by Philip Johnson (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/philip_johnson/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the most celebrated American architect of the last half-century. It’s not just any Philip Johnson house, either: it’s one that a preservationist called “a livable version of the Glass House,” Johnson’s New Canaan home, a temple of transparency that opened to the public last year and now draws worshipful hordes daily to bask within the glory of high modernism.

But who actually wants to buy, let alone live in, a Philip Johnson house, particularly one that, at 1,773 square feet, might make a nice walk-in closet for the chateau down the lane?

Nobody in New Canaan, so far, at least not at that price.
And so not three miles from the Glass House, on one of New Canaan’s most estate-studded thoroughfares, the austere glass-and-concrete confection that Johnson called his “little jewel box,” built in 1953 for Alice Ball, a single woman with apparent passions for pink stucco and ruthless spatial efficiency, faces the prospect of demolition.

The Alice Ball House’s owner, an architect and developer, Cristina Ross, decided a few years ago that the building would make a worthy pool house for a much more au courant dwelling to be built at the back of the property. But that move was blocked, first by the town, which has since been mollified, and now by the neighbors to the rear, who have not.
Ms. Ross says that if she is unable to add her vision (“an English country house in the style of Lutyens”) to Johnson’s, or if she cannot find a buyer for the existing structure, she might just knock down the Ball house and build a New Canaan-style paean to maximalism atop its minimalist ruins.
This would not be an unprecedented development in New Canaan, a suburb forever of two minds about its place as epicenter and laboratory of the International Style: about two dozen of the 90-odd modernist dwellings built in New Canaan by Johnson and a group of fellow modernists known as the Harvard Five have been torn down in favor of buildings that cast more shadow on the landscape. This would be the first Johnson house to fall.
“It’s basically an option,” said Ms. Ross, who has the demolition permit to prove it. “Investment in property is only worth what you can get out of it.”
Ms. Ross, who lives in a five-bedroom colonial elsewhere in New Canaan, had her office in the Ball house for a while and now rents it out while it sits on the market. By her count, there have been at least a dozen prospective buyers in the last year, and a Finnish fashion shoot and a 50th birthday party for an architect, but there have been no takers.

The fact that such an architectural trophy has gone unbought for a year speaks less about any ambivalence for modernism, or even a softness in local property values, than about the domestic expectations of the superprivileged. “No one builds with less than five bedrooms now,” said Prudy Parris, Ms. Ross’s real estate agent. “People with no kids or one kid want five bedrooms.”

Christopher Wigren, the deputy director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, made the same point in an interview with the online edition of Preservation magazine: “People in a position to pay $3 million for a house want more than a galley kitchen.”

A tour of the Alice Ball House does not take long. Other than the living room, which measures 26 by 23 feet and seems (barely) enclosed, within more glass than wall, the rooms are shockingly small. A king-size bed nearly fills one of the two bedrooms (there is a third bedroom in an adjoining guest house, added later). The kitchen, while nicely appointed, would not look out of place on a houseboat.

“This is a space that has to be experienced directly,” said Gregory Farmer, a preservationist at the Connecticut (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/national/usstatesterritoriesandpossessions/connecticut/index.html?inline=nyt-geo) trust, which lists the Ball house as one of the state’s most threatened treasures, “a space that’s experienced at a very personal level rather than something that’s very impressive to someone passing by on the street. Driving by, it looks like nothing.”

This is particularly the case on the road called Oenoke Ridge, one of New Canaan’s best addresses. Directly across the street from the Ball house, an 18,000-square-foot Tudor palace known as Wexford Hall is on the market for $13.9 million. All along the ridge top, monuments to architectural excess, not to say the killings made on Wall Street in recent years, echo across rolling lawns. The Ball house, now finished in beige rather than pink, sits close to the road and presents as a tan-and-glass shoebox.

Ms. Ross’s plan to build a second house on the 2.2-acre property for resale ran afoul of the town environmental commission, which denied her permission to pave about 3,000 square feet of wetlands for a driveway and parking area. She scaled back the plan and won the town’s approval. But meanwhile, her neighbors to the rear, a retired investment banker and his wife, had signed on as secondary defendants in a suit Ms. Ross filed against the environmental commission, and they will not let the matter drop.
“We think it’s a capitulation on the wetlands issue,” said Linda Powell, the retired banker’s wife, adding that for what it’s worth, “building a columned colonial Italianate home in the back is not what we would consider preserving the Philip Johnson house.”

Some fans of New Canaan’s modernist heritage have taken it upon themselves to find a buyer. Jack Trifero, head of the New Canaan Village Association, the town’s chamber of commerce, buttonholes strangers and acquaintances in front of his Gramophone video store on Main Street and presses into their hands a flyer bearing a picture of the Johnson building and the plea “Save This House.”

“I’ll see somebody I know in the arts and say, ‘Mr. Smith, I can see you in this house,’ ” Mr. Trifero said. Some people express interest, he said, while others “just don’t understand why a house like that would be valuable.”
Even some modernist partisans say the price seems high. Ms. Ross bought the house for $1.5 million only three years ago, and says she has overhauled “all major systems: roofs, walls, woodwork, plaster, stonework.”

But Helen Higgins, the executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, said, “There haven’t been enough improvements to suggest that the value is doubled.”

Ms. Ross’s hopes, though, have been buoyed by two recent sales. A quarter-mile up Oenoke Ridge, a crazy-looking 1958 pyramid-topped house by Edward Durell Stone (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/edward_durell_stone/index.html?inline=nyt-per), architect of the John F. Kennedy Center (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/k/kennedy_john_f_center_for_the_performing_arts/index.html?inline=nyt-org) for the Performing Arts, just sold for $4.1 million, though it is more than twice the size of the Ball House. And on May 14, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, Calif., designed by Richard Neutra (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/n/richard_neutra/index.html?inline=nyt-per), sold at auction for $16.8 million.
The math on the Alice Ball house works out to $1,750 a square foot, ignoring for the moment the value of land, which is of course considerable. That’s about triple the average price per square foot of houses that sold in New Canaan in the last few weeks, on lots that average the same size, according to statistics from a local brokerage, Barbara Cleary’s Realty Guild.
Ms. Ross said she would sooner knock the house down than lower her price.
“The bottom line,” she said, “is that if there’s a buyer out there, great. If there isn’t, then I’ve done my due diligence.”

If Ms. Ross does decide to take down the Ball house, she has plans for demolition day.

“I don’t want to be here,” she said.


June 2nd, 2008, 07:18 AM
"FOR $3.1 million in New Canaan, you can get a middling, multi-humped colonial colossus of no great distinction but sufficient grandeur to assuage your distress at not living quite as well as your hedge-fund-managing neighbors who paid twice as much.

Or you could get a house by Philip Johnson (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/philip_johnson/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the most celebrated American architect of the last half-century. It’s not just any Philip Johnson house, either: it’s one that a preservationist called “a livable version of the Glass House,” Johnson’s New Canaan home, a temple of transparency that opened to the public last year and now draws worshipful hordes daily to bask within the glory of high modernism."

What a pompous, sneering statement. :rolleyes:

And Johnson, pace, is far from the "most celebrated American architect of the last half-century".

By all means, preserve it but spare me the dumsh!t, loser journo angst. :cool:

June 2nd, 2008, 07:32 AM
The modern house was, imo, Modernism's greatest contribution: simple, uncluttered, austere and clean. Too bad the public never acquired a taste for it.

Ironically, with the replacement of these houses, the style's best manifestations are among the first to go.

June 2nd, 2008, 02:32 PM
Luca: The word "celebrated": widely known and esteemed

Johnson was a house-hold name in the US, already in the 1950's. I believe only FLWright could surpass him at that time for fame. They were America's first star architects. Wright died, but Johnson's fame with the general public continued.

So I really think it's accurate, Philip Johnson: "most celebrated American architect of the last half-century". Whether the fame was deserved or not, is another argument.


June 2nd, 2008, 02:56 PM
Johnson had a mixed legacy, just as Frank Lloyd Wright.

If it were just the buildings, Johnson would not be a major force, although he did leave his mark in several buildings. His influence, however, was far and wide, and he was well-trained in the politics of this business. There was a dark side to Johnson as well, such as his anti-Semitism.

As for Wright, his massive output of quality Architecture, and statement, changing looks over the years, and international appeal of his work, all made him arguable America's greatest Architect. But there is the ego, and the lifestyle, and the burned bridges that made him unliked by many.

One cannot look at Architecture without looking at both these figures, but there is no final word on either, even today.

June 5th, 2008, 09:46 AM
Ablarc wrote: “The modern house was, imo, Modernism's greatest contribution: simple, uncluttered, austere and clean. Too bad the public never acquired a taste for it. Ironically, with the replacement of these houses, the style's best manifestations are among the first to go.”

I totally agree that hyper-minimalism/’modernism’ works best on a small scale, possibly (but not necessarily) in an isolated/sylvan setting. My theory that (the need for relief of mass through) ornamentation should be directly proportional to the size of the ‘object’ and inversely proportional to its ergonomic requirements stems in no small part from the first observation.

As ‘empirical’ evidence to support your claim, I would point out that while majority aesthetic-yet-‘layman’ opinion on architectural form still favors classicism and vernacular forms, in interior design a compromise between overwrought classicism and minimalism (a sort of interior stripped classicism) is triumphant in millions of homes and unlikely to ever revert to ‘Victorian’ excess.

Fabrizio wrote: “Johnson was a house-hold name in the US, already in the 1950's. I believe only FLWright could surpass him at that time for fame. They were America's first star architects. Wright died, but Johnson's fame with the general public continued.”

I was referring to the current time frame. I think outside of architecture buffs, very few educated Americans heard of Johnson (unlike F.L. Wright); considerably more may have heard of Gehry, for instance. But it’s just my impression, nothing empirical to back it up with. From a cognoscenti standpoint, certainly, Johnson seems generally considered more prolific than inspirational.

June 5th, 2008, 10:38 AM
Luca, the quote in question is: "the most celebrated American architect of the last half-century"

Whether people of today know of him or not is not the issue. The issue is: most celebrated of the last 50 years.

There was a time in American culture when news outlets could be counted on your fingers. Johnson had his interviews (and face on the covers ) of Life, Look, Time and Newsweek. The cartoons in The NewYorker and so forth. The picture spreads of the GlassHouse... the news of the Seagrams Building (a star in advertising and popular films like "The Best of Everything")... the plan of Lincoln Center, the World'sFair... his friendship with Jackie Kennedy. All of this had a high-profile impact that cannot be duplicated today. Back then it was just 3 TV news networks and a handful magazines... that was it.

The man got serious face-time in front of the American public. No other architect can match it.

June 5th, 2008, 11:02 AM
As ‘empirical’ evidence to support your claim, I would point out that while majority aesthetic-yet-‘layman’ opinion on architectural form still favors classicism and vernacular forms, ............

To my surprise: this is in fact true (http://blogs.library.unlv.edu/arch-studies/2007/02/bellagio_in_list_of_americas_f.html). I feel that the popularity (http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-poparch07-sort2.html) of these "classic historical recreations (http://www.cs.ucr.edu/~chung/photos.2005/Pics/050321%20Las%20Vegas%20NV%2083.JPG)" will soon fade; and the international style of Architectural will receive general public approval.

'Classicism / Neo-classicism' in the world of Architecture is a style that is rooted (and therefore associated with) in one particular time/place/culture. The age of the internet - I assume - will bring about a more "international" understanding of Architecture and with that will come greater public acceptance non-traditional Architectural Styles; not only in the USA but most likely the western-world in general.

In reference to Philip Johnson, he made an attempt to keep the "classic" design elements in contemporary architecture at the Sony building (http://www.thecityreview.com/sonyatt.html): in my opinion the 'chippendale' crown did not come off to well - with the result that the overall design is mediocre at best.

June 5th, 2008, 11:55 AM
Houses are about the only moderist architecture i truely like, Ive always wanted to live in a modernist house for some reason.

June 5th, 2008, 12:33 PM
The problem with most of these modernist homes is that they are small and cramped by today's standards. Especially rooms like the kitchen and bathrooms. A friend of mine grew up in an Eichler in California and I spent time there visiting his family with him... they are fine for aficionados but I don't think many want to live that way today.

June 10th, 2008, 04:05 AM
^^^ I don't think that Vegas victims' likign of the Bellagio should be conflated with the average person's preference for a calssical Cape Cod over an Oscar Niemeier Bond-villain-house in such a facile manner, Infoshare.

^ Fabrizio: That's true (one of the many, many, many examples of the supposedly 'practical' mdoernsits in fact being plain kooky. However, there is no reason why minimalist/'modernist' style houses cannot be built now with good sized kitchens / bathrooms. (indeed you can see them in archtiecture magazines).

June 10th, 2008, 08:35 AM
^^^ I don't think that Vegas victims' likign of the Bellagio should be conflated with the average person's preference for a calssical Cape Cod over an Oscar Niemeier Bond-villain-house in such a facile manner, Infoshare.

It was a survey of "average person's" not only "Vegas Victims": my only point being that the classic styles (to my surprise) are 'in fact' more popular than "modern" architecture.

I was also making some side references and comments there: so I guess the post reads as being 'facile' or 'conflated'.

To simply say - and to say only - that the survey provides 'empirical' evidence that classical design (to my surprise) is still 'most' popular with the general public: would have been a more precise way of making my point.:rolleyes:

January 14th, 2011, 07:36 PM
Mega-Church Meltown

Financial problems may force Crystal Cathedral Ministries to sell architectural icons

by David D'Arcy

Major architecture for the mega-industry, from left to right, by Johnson, Johnson, Neutra, and Meier. Scott Frances / Esto

Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the gleaming Southern California mega-church conglomerate, has filed for bankruptcy, citing pressures from creditors and deep shortfalls in donations to its Hour of Power television appeals.

Once a pioneer in media ministries, thanks to the gentle charisma and entrepreneurial fervor of its founder, Reverend Robert Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral defined destination architecture in its era, with glass-sheathed buildings that pushed upward from the flat landscape by Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson, and a later addition to the Garden Grove campus by Richard Meier.

Those improbable architect-client combinations were rare cases where modern and postmodern design could be compatible with Evangelical Christianity. Who knew? As debts mount, could those structures have been part of the problem, and could they now be sold and put to other use, or seized by angry creditors?

Philip Johnson's Bell Tower to the left of the International Center for Possibility Thinking by Richard Meier.

The ministry’s future did not always look so grim. In 1955, the Iowa-born Schuller of the Reformed Church of America found a religious dimension in suburbia’s motor culture, before Orange County became a suburb. He turned a local drive-in movie theater into the country’s first drive-in church on Sunday mornings when he preached from the roof of a concession stand, and his wife Arvella played the organ by his side. Transforming a place that the movie industry categorized as a teenage “passion pit” into a sacred place required an act of faith and $10 rent every Sunday. The wager paid off.

The Crystal Cathedral by Johnson with Neutra's tower of Hope in the background.

Schuller also bet that commissioning Richard Neutra in 1958 to build a glass drive-in/walk-in church one mile away from Disneyland would give the ministry a unique profile. It did. Worshippers drove to the church with the high steeple and to the parking lots with terraced sight lines, and televised services began in 1970. Even with the church in bankruptcy, the Hour of Power still airs globally every Sunday. Only Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and 60 Minutes have been on the air longer. Schuller’s program has had a longer life than many buildings.

Neutra’s airy design—with a reflecting pool, walls that slid open, and a cross atop the Tower of Hope that could be seen for miles—established an affinity with Schuller’s message of love, light, and “possibility thinking” (his new, improved version of “positive thinking” from Norman Vincent Peale). The Jewish architect’s notions of bio-realism and therapy through architecture seemed a world away from Schuller’s Midwestern Calvinism that judged individuals by the “bottom line” of their achievements, yet the bond between the two was strong.

While graceful, the Neutra designs could only be called pioneering in Orange County. By 1964 Neutra’s Tower of Hope and Disneyland’s Matterhorn nearby were the two tallest points in the county. Neutra’s memorial service in 1970 was held at Garden Grove.

As the ministry grew, another act of faith sought to differentiate the campus from the sea of concrete around it. Arvella Schuller was inspired by Philip Johnson’s Fort Worth Water Gardens (1974) and Johnson was hired to design a new glass church that would be larger than the Neutra structure, where TV had taken over much of the space in the same way that residential subdivisions and commercial sprawl displaced the old drive-in theaters. Client and architect found a kinship again.

Johnson, an atheist who called himself “an artist and a whore,” became Schuller’s architect, and in 1980 the preacher got a new $21 million silvery glass house, the Crystal Cathedral, one of Orange County’s major tourist attractions. Worshippers sat in Johnson’s radiant space during the Hour of Power, or listened in parked cars, or watched it all as television panned from his stage set to fountains outside. The cathedral’s corporate sheen was reminiscent of Johnson’s Pennzoil building in Houston, and upscale enough to convince the congregants that they were the Episcopalians of Revivalism.

By 1990, Johnson added The Bell Tower or Campanile, including melodramatic life-sized sculptures that reminded you that the man who loved modernism also shared cultural roots with the Liberace Museum.

Richard Meier's International Center for Possibility Thinking built in 2003.

Thanks to Armand Hammer (providing introductions to Mikhail Gorbachev) and Rupert Murdoch (satellite access to the former Soviet Union), Schuller’s global reach widened. The architecture made for better television, according to Erica Robles, author of a forthcoming book on the Crystal Cathedral, architecture, and the media.

In 2003, the Crystal Cathedral campus expanded even further, and at greater cost, with a $40 million International Center for Possibility Thinking, a generic visitors center in embossed curved steel and glass designed by Richard Meier.

The dream-team campus’ financial collapse defies familiar tales of greedy right-wing evangelists enriching themselves and spending lavishly on homes and luxuries. The Hour of Power had no strong right-wing political agenda. Crystal Cathedral leaders were paid reasonable salaries and most of the construction, albeit by celebrity architects, was funded by contributions. In the past two years, as Robert Schuller’s children miscalculated on internet expansion and funded a lavish, money-losing production called Creation, those contributions fell 24 percent. (Most creditors are media firms or vendors, not builders.)

There’s no clear prophetic element to the Schuller fall from grace besides the inherent risk in passing the reins of an empire to one’s children. Charisma isn’t transferable, nor is it always genetic, as the Schullers have learned to their chagrin. Another lesson is that the risk to any mega-church depends on how leveraged it is, and on its dependency on the personal appeal of a single pastor.

So far, none of Schuller’s wealthy patrons has risen to ease the debt, although one might have found the money if Schuller’s message echoed Tea Party rhetoric. A revenue trickle comes from opening its parking lots to the public, yet a worsening crisis could force the Crystal Cathedral back to its roots. “A lot of those drive-ins didn’t make money showing feature films,” said Erica Robles. Possibilities range from flea markets to biker shows, to mergers with Christians who have capital. If I were choosing, the Meier building would be the first on the block. Jim Coleman, the Crystal Cathedral’s creative director and Robert Schuller’s son-in-law, swears that there are no plans to sell any of the campus architecture. “We are faithful people. Remember, the Israelites had their backs against the Red Sea when Moses took them there,” he said.

Where on the dark side might the Schuller empire end up if things don’t work out the way they did for Moses? What if they scheduled an apocalypse, and no cars drove in? Surely, icons for sale wouldn’t be a sin. God knows.


January 18th, 2011, 08:28 AM
They are definitely interesting buildings, by themselves, but stuck together like that?

Man that makes me sick to the stomach with feelings of gross over-commercialization of religion.

It ain't love that will change the world, or even a friggin coke.

It's money.