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Johnson, Philip Cortelyou

Johnson, Philip Cortelyou (1906–2005;). American architect with an aloof disdain for the opinions of the masses, his independence of mind, flair for publicity, and political skills established his powerful position in the architectural world, both as designer and critic. While a student of philosophy at Harvard he met Alfred Hamilton Barr (1902–81), who pointed him towards an architectural career. In 1928 Barr was approached to create the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NYC (of which he was Director 1929–67), and called in several gifted young men to assist. Johnson was one of them, but Barr asked him first to travel in Europe to learn about trends in modern architecture. Joining forces with H. -R. Hitchcock, Johnson met leading members of the European avant-garde, including Mies van der Rohe (Who was invited to design Johnson's Manhattan apartment). When Johnson returned to NYC, he worked at MoMA while also completing his degree at Harvard in 1930 before officially taking up his post as head of the Department of Architecture at MoMA (1932). There, Johnson, Hitchcock, and Barr created the important exhibition Modern Architecture: International Style which publicized work by Le Corbusier, Gropius, Mies, Oud, and others. The term International style was accepted into the general vocabulary of architecture from the publication (1932) of Johnson and Hitchcock's The International Style: Architecture since 1922.

In 1934 Johnson gave up his MoMA post to begin a short-lived career in right-wing politics, assisting those opposed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945—32nd President of the USA, 1933–45). In 1933 Johnson had heard Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) speak, and thereafter increasingly joined in the widespread adulation accorded to Nazi Germany (1933–45). He supported Mies in attempts to get the Nazis to embrace the International style: after all, both Gropius and Mies entered the competition to design the Reichsbank, one of many suppressed facts about them. Recognizing the close connection between Power and Modernism, Johnson himself said that Speer would have made a great architect of skyscrapers. In late 1940 he returned to Harvard to study architecture under Breuer and Gropius, and in 1945 resumed his position at MoMA, organizing in 1947 an influential exhibition and publishing a monograph on Mies's work (which he admired for its monumentality, purity, and tenuous connections with Classicism), although he managed to avoid discussion of Mies's attempted rapprochement with the Hitler régime.

Johnson had opened his own office in partnership (1946–51) with Landes Gores (1919–91), and soon made his name with the Glass House, New Canaan, CT (1949), clearly influenced by Mies's work: with Mies's Farnsworth House, Plano, IL (1946–51), the Glass House was seen as a paradigm of Modernism at the time, although Johnson claimed he had been influenced by Le Corbusier, Ledoux, Malevich, Schinkel, and De Stijl when designing it. Johnson was associated with Mies and others during the design of the Seagram Building, NYC (1954–8), but once the International style became commonplace in America, he turned away from it, revealing something of his iconoclasm. About this time, Johnson's position became complex, for he seemed to be interpreting Modernism while at the same time stripping it of its supposed Functionalism, its claims to ‘social responsibility’, and its fraudulent morality. Johnson had no fears about exposing the shallow hypocrisy of the architectural profession, and, rejecting all the claims that Modernism was a social, cultural, and economic movement, labelled it firmly what it was: a style. For a time, however, he became the impresario of the International style before he began to twist its tail, sending up the puritanical European Modernists and (especially) their British followers (his views on some of them were scathing). He loathed his former teacher Gropius, who, in turn, detested him.

In the guest-house at New Canaan (1952) he introduced vaults with a hint of Soane about them, and thereafter (in partnership in the 1960s with Richard Foster (1919–2002) ) he turned to a feeble monumentality (e.g. New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, NYC (1962–4), and the extension to the Boston Public Library (1964–73) ). From 1967 to 1991 Johnson was in partnership with John Henry Burgee (1933– ): they sent shock-waves through the cosy world of orthodox Modernism with their American Telephone and Telegraph skyscraper, NYC (1978–83—now the Sony Building—a masonry-clad structure with powerful mullions set on a stripped variation of a serliana-cum-triumphal arch, and capped by a paraphrase of an open-topped pediment), described variously as the first Post-Modern building, as ‘flippant’, as an ‘inflated and simplistic reference to history’ (Huxtable), or (ignorantly) as ‘pseudo-classical’. Later works (sometimes in collaboration with other architects) included the Investors Diversified Services Building, Minneapolis, MN (1970–3), and Pennzoil Place, Houston, TX (1970–6). Then followed the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, CA (1976–80), the Republic Bank Center, Houston, TX (1980–4—with reminiscences of crow-stepped Gothic gables from Northern Europe), the Transco Tower, also in Houston (1981–5—with a hint of the Classicism of Goodhue), the Pittsburgh Plate Glass HQ, Pittsburgh, PA (1983–4—also with quirky allusions to history), and the School of Architecture, Houston, TX (1983–6).

In 1988 Johnson again confounded critics by returning to MoMA as guest curator of the exhibition Deconstructivist Architecture, billed as ‘development post-dating post-modernism’: it brought architects such as Hadid and Libeskind to the attention of the media, and demonstrated again his capabilities in knowing (and even creating) celebrity culture. In fact, his career demonstrates he was a taste-former, insisting that architecture is not about social engineering or ‘making life better’, but should be viewed as an aesthetic experience. He himself designed the Gate House, New Canaan (1994–5—), a pavilion without any right angles, his own homage to Deconstructivism), experimented with developing ideas from German Expressionism, and designed (1996) the Cathedral of Hope, Dallas, TX, for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (still to be realized). It seems as though, having shocked, Johnson then went on to do something else, almost gleefully, leaving critics floundering in his wake: he promoted, then subverted the International style, did the same to Post-Modernism, and repeated the feat with Deconstructivism, all of which adds up to quite a comment on his times. He often described himself as a ‘whore’, as he exposed pretence and exercised his influence with cynicism and puckish disregard for what might be thought of his stance (which changed so much nobody could actually pin him down (to the intense annoyance of (especially) British critics) ). Amazingly, he admitted he was ‘not a good architect’, and indeed some of his work (e.g., in Dallas, TX) would bear out his admission: it is often superficial, lacks depth, and could be considered unusually brittle, suggesting he could not think architecturally (he could not draw either). However, he was as successful in creating new trends and forming opinions as he was in deflating the pretensions of adherents of once-fashionable (and frequently untenable) orthodoxies: his greatest achievement was to expose the false morality of Modernism, and indeed the bogusness of major trends in C20 and C21 architecture.


Blake (1966);
Fox et al. (2002);
Goldberger (ed.) (2002);
Hitchcock (1996a);
Hitchcock & and Johnson (1995);
Jacobus (1962);
Jenkins & and Mohney (2001);
Jodidio (1997);
Johnson & and Wigley (1988);
Kipnis (1996);
Lewis & and O'Connor (1994);
Nory Miller (1979);
Nakamura (ed.)(2000);
Salingaros et al. (2004);
Schulze (1994);
Stern (ed.) (1979)
The Times (28 Jan. 2005), 70;
Welch (2000);
Whitney & and Kipnis (1994);

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"Johnson, Philip Cortelyou." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . 22 Jun. 2017 <>.

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Johnson, Philip Cortelyou

Philip Cortelyou Johnson, 1906–2005, American architect, museum curator, and historian, b. Cleveland, grad. Harvard Univ. (B.A., 1927). One of the first Americans to study modern European architecture, Johnson wrote (with H.-R. Hitchcock) The International Style: Architecture since 1922 (1932), in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. He became an important American advocate of the new architecture as chairman of the museum's department of architecture (1932–34; 1945–54).

Johnson did not become a working architect until he was in his 30s, receiving his professional degree from Harvard in 1943 and founding his own firm in 1953. A landmark of modern American domestic architecture, Johnson's austerely beautiful glass-walled house in New Canaan, Conn. (1949), reveals the influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Johnson wrote a study of Mies in 1947 and collaborated with him on the Seagram Building in New York City (1956–58), now universally viewed as a modern classic. Two other important Manhattan commissions from his earlier years are the Rockefeller Guest House (1950) and the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964; now the David H. Koch Theater), the latter designed in the more decorative, rather neoclassical mode he favored in the 1960s.

Johnson had a successful partnership with John Burgee from 1967 to 1991. The two collaborated on such structures as the addition to the Boston Public Library (1973), Pennzoil Place in Houston, Tex. (1976), with its two trapezoidal towers, the huge Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. (1980), and skyscrapers in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas. In 1979 he was the first architect to be awarded the pretigious Pritzker Prize.

A latent historicism that had characterized many of Johnson's buildings in midcareer came to the fore in his unabashedly neo-Georgian design (featuring a "Chippendale" broken-pediment top) for the AT&T headquarters in New York City (1978–84, now the Sony Building); the controversy it engendered was a key factor in bringing the postmodern architectural debate into the public forum. Thereafter, Johnson, who formed his own firm in 1992, indulged in an eclectic variety of revival modes and more fragmented, deconstructivist styles. One of his most interesting late structures is the Chrysler Center (2001), a three-story retail pavilion in midtown Manhattan comprised of intersecting pyramids inspired by the tower of the Chrysler Building.

See critical biography by F. Schulze (1994); catalogue raisonné, The Architecture of Philip Johnson (2002), ed. by H. Lewis and S. Fox; H. Lewis and J. O'Connor, Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words (1994); studies by J. M. Jacobus, Jr. (1962), C. Noble (1972), N. Miller (1980), D. Whitney and J. Kipnis, ed. (1993), P. Blake (1996), J. Kipnis (1996), and S. Jenkins and D. Mohney (2001).

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Johnson, Philip Cortelyou

Johnson, Philip Cortelyou (1906– ) US architect. He studied under Marcel Breuer at Harvard University and became a proponent of the International style. Johnson collaborated with Mies van der Rohe on the Seagram Building, New York City, USA (1958). Other designs include the Lincoln Center, New York City (1964).

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"Johnson, Philip Cortelyou." World Encyclopedia. . 22 Jun. 2017 <>.

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