January 31, 2005 by

Philip Johnson


Categories: Artists, Military, Writers/Editors

pjohnson.jpgPhilip Cortelyou Johnson, the bespectacled architect who dared to change the face of American cities with his post-modernist designs, died on Jan. 25. Cause of death was not released. He was 98.
The Cleveland native developed a passion for architecture when he was 13 years old after viewing an image of Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. Johnson earned a degree in philosophy from Harvard University in 1927 and toured Europe to study building design and craftsmanship. Five years later, he returned to the United States to chair the department of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His first major exhibit, “The International Style: Architecture 1922-1932,” inspired countless architects to design towering structures of glass and metal.
Johnson went back to school in 1940 to study under Marcel Breuer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He served with the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, then created the sculpture garden and west wing of the Museum of Modern Art. From 1967 to 1987, Johnson and his long-time business partner, John Burgee, designed numerous retail and office buildings in American cities. When their partnership ended in the mid-1980s, he went into business for himself.
Some of Johnson’s most memorable projects include the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., the Transco Tower (now the Williams Tower) and RepublicBank Tower (now NCNB Center) in Houston, the United Bank Center Tower in Denver, Tisch Hall at New York University, a Nieman-Marcus store in San Francisco, the Cleveland Playhouse, a Water Garden in Fort Worth, Texas, the Dade County Cultural Center in Miami and the National Center for Performing Arts in Bombay, India. His design of the Chippendale-topped AT&T Building (now the Sony Building) in New York City landed Johnson on the cover of Time magazine.
Johnson was best known for designing his boxy New Canaan, Conn., home. The Glass House won the Silver Medal from the Architectural League of New York in 1950. He also received the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1978, and was the first recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Privately, Johnson was an author, philanthropist and art collector. He admitted to supporting a Hitler-style of fascism in his youth, but later expressed embarrassment for such beliefs. “I have no excuse (for) such utter, unbelievable stupidity. I don’t know how you expiate guilt,” he once said. To atone for his brief involvement in right-wing politics, Johnson designed a synagogue in Port Chester, N.Y., at no charge.
After years of stressing over how his sexual identify would affect his professional prospects, Johnson came out of the closet in a 1993 interview with Vogue magazine. He is survived by David Whitney, his companion of 45 years.
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3 Responses to Philip Johnson

  1. Barrett

    Mr. Johnson–
    Your “Cathedral of Hope” project in Dallas will be a lasting reminder of not only your evolution as an artist but for our nation in its evolution of challenge, thought, and acceptance.
    Thanks be to God.

  2. Anonymous

    Good on ya Phil for being one of the few modernists to realise the foolishness of it all and starting building buildings with some merit!
    The glass house is awesome though.
    If only Le Corbusier could have been more apologetic lol.
    And I hope the Cathedral of Hope gets built….

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