Philip Johnson : 1906 - 2005


Philip Johnson outside his iconic building Glasshouse

Philip Johnson can be credited as an architect that championed the development of the International style and further design and construction of post modern architectural buildings.


He was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1906. He originally studied Greek philosophy and history as an Undergraduate at Harvard University.


As a youth and as part of his studies he made several trips to Europe, in 1927 giving him an interest in classical and Gothic architecture.


At the age of 22 he was lucky enough to meet Mies van de Rohe and they both formed a life long relationship and friendship of collaboration.


In 1930, Johnson joined MOMA in New York and went on to become the founding Chairman of the Museums Department of Architecture from 1932-34. During this time he arranged visits by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier to the USA.


MOMA 1932 Exhibition


It can be argued that the pivotal influence that Philip Johnson had on the world of architecture was his involvement in the organisation of the exhibition “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” that was held in 1932 at the MOMA in New York City. It introduced to the world the “international style” its key features included lack of ornamentation, simple geometry and the principle of function designed into the building removing all other features. Philip Johnson described it as “probably the first fundamentally original and widely distributed style since the Gothic Movement”.


In his mid 30’s Johnson went back to study and enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and studied Architecture with Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius.


Nazi Sympathies


During the late 30's and early 40's Johnson developed sympathy for the Rising Nazi Party in Germany, which caused him some controversy in his later life, although at the time many millions were caught up in the same fanatical mood not knowing what the world would face in the years ahead.


Most recently, In December 2020 the Harvard Graduate School of Design announced it would be removing Philip Johnson's name from a building he had designed while studying there, "The Philip Johnson Thesis House" would from now on only be known by its physical street address.


Projects


9 Ash Street House or Thesis House, Cambridge, Massachusetts

9 Ash Street


Johnson's first project, 9 Ash Street clearly has heavy influence from Mies van der Rohe' style and was originally submitted as part of his thesis whilst studying for his Masters at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. The building went through a number of transitions as its construction was limited to the materials available due to the war, and consists of a rectangular house and a courtyard surrounded by a high fence. It is now owned by

Harvard's Graduate School of Design.


The Glass House


The Glass House or Johnson House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, USA
Interior Construction showing simple clean lines

A building that was also influenced by Mies van der Rohe though his building the Farnsworth House.


Its original construction was in 1949 although it was also modified in 1995, was built in 49 acres of land and has been credited as introducing the United States to the International Style. It bears all the hallmarks of the International movement, clear glass, perfect proportions, use of steel beams, and is of a simple 56 foot by 32 foot rectangular frame with a hearth and fireplace reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wrights use of the fireplace at the centre of a building, replacing man as the centre. Philip Johnson hinted that its purpose of construction was to make the visitor to the building feel they were on a "permanent camping trip".


Setting for the Glass House in 49 acres of countryside

Seagram Building


Mies van der Rohe led the buildings design with Philip Johnson as an associate architect, being responsible for the design of the lobby and other internal aspects of the building.


Its structure had huge influences on American and World Architecture, its fundamental structure was a steel frame with curtain wall non load bearing glass panels wrapping the external facade, a building technique that is the core to modern office block construction to this day.


The use of high quality materials and use of interior marble, bronze and travertine limestone slabs made the project the most expensive skyscraper at the time of construction .


550 Madison - AT&T Building



When first completed, the AT and T building received mixed reviews. Paul Goldberger of the New York Times, described it as "the most provocative and daring skyscraper proposed for New York since the Chrysler Building", While architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it a “pedestrian pastiche pulled together by painstaking, polished details".


Built in the post modernist style in 1979, the building became known as the Chippendale skyscraper due to the extravagant use of a decorative broken pediment at the summit, creating the impression of a french furniture cabinet, which sets it apart from other International style skyscrapers. Its entrance was emphasised by flat columns with a grand central arch to the main lobby.


The building that stands 37 stories tall, is clad in Stony Creek Pink Granite that gives the building a classical look to its facade. Its sheer vertical rise, not normally accepted in New York Planning committees, was allowed as a public space was created in the entrance, although this was also criticised as it allowed minimal protection to the individual.


Having said this, it is still regarded as an important post modern building and marks a turning point in the history of 20th century architecture design.


Lipstick Building - 53rd at third


Lipstick Building - 53rd at third - New York

This building represents the second post modern contribution to the New York City Skyline for Philip Johnson.


The buildings design consists of three oval volumes reducing in size upwards conforming to the New York 1916 Zoning Resolution for light penetration to the pavement below, It is made using a steel structure, chosen to allow the loads to be supported down to the buildings foundations.


Ribbon Windows surround each floor continually with a thin dark red band separating each floor .


PPG Place, Pittsburgh


Built in 1984, the 6 building complex includes a 40 story post modern Gothic style building covered in curtain wall reflective glass sheeting giving the whole complex an almost surreal feeling to it.


Victoria Tower - Houses of Parliament - London UK, similar too Philip Johnsons PPG Design
PPG Place, Pittsburgh USA, an echo of a Gothic Past

The 6 buildings in the complex are arranged around a central plaza, which house, office, retail space. Through his earlier career, Johnson visited Europe a number of times, giving the impression that his playful post Modern style was influenced by his studies and appreciation of colonial and imperialist architecture that he may have been exposed to on his trips around Europe.


PPG's tower was the first gothic style tower to be constructed and clad totally in glass, almost 1 million feet of it, with reflective, sculptural qualities, the building almost becomes a work of art with its use of dark and light striations that change its external qualities depending on the time of day and the seasons in Pittsburgh.


Awards


25 Year Award - Awarded by the American Institute of Architects to "a building that has set a precedent for the last 25 to 35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance". Awarded for the Glass House


AIA Gold Medal - 1978


The Pritzker Architecture Prize - 1979




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