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Thread: Architect Philip Johnson Dies

  1. #16


    February 6, 2005

    Modernist Living: A Primer


    Philip Johnson outside the Glass House in 1998.

    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 The New York Times Company

  2. #17


    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.
    Last edited by NoyokA; March 30th, 2005 at 01:19 PM. Reason: Content unrelated to thread topic.

  3. #18


    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.

  4. #19


    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.

  5. #20

    Default Remembering Philip Johnson

    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 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

  6. #21
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default A Tiny Masterpiece, Unloved, Faces Threat

    May 25, 2008
    A Tiny Masterpiece, Unloved, Faces Threat

    NEW CANAAN, Conn.

    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, 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 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, architect of the John F. Kennedy Center 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, 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.

  7. #22


    "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, 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.

    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.

  8. #23


    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.

  9. #24


    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.,16...790108,00.html

  10. #25


    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.

  11. #26


    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.

  12. #27


    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.

  13. #28

    Unhappy The Belliago

    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    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. I feel that the popularity of these "classic historical recreations" 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: in my opinion the 'chippendale' crown did not come off to well - with the result that the overall design is mediocre at best.
    Last edited by infoshare; June 5th, 2008 at 08:49 PM.

  14. #29


    Houses are about the only moderist architecture i truely like, Ive always wanted to live in a modernist house for some reason.

  15. #30


    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.

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