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04.26.05 Special Issue:
Remembering Philip Johnson, FAIA


Courtesy Frances Halsband, 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.


Introduction
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."


Contributors

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

Alan Ritchie, AIA, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects:
I am deeply saddened by this loss. Over the past three decades I've considered myself fortunate to have worked with Philip Johnson on so many of his buildings. When he retired last year he passed the firm to me, stating that he was confident I would carry on the Philip Johnson legacy. Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects will still carry Philip Johnson's name, as well as his high standard for architectural excellence. Currently, we are working on a number of very exciting projects all over the world, and it is my intent to see that they are built in his name and memory.

 

Yasin Abdullah, AIA:
I feel very fortunate to have worked closely with Mr. Johnson on his Visitor Center (known as the Monster in the office) project at his New Canaan estate. Among the large number of projects in his office, Mr. Johnson was specially attached to this brainchild of his. He stopped by my desk every morning to see the progress. This project was a true integration of architectural design and the possibilities of computer technology. Mr. Johnson was thrilled to see what this new technology could offer to him. He used to bring his professional friends to my desk and try to convince them to use computer technology in design. His notion of the "Damn Machines" gained popularity among his friends and colleagues. However, the prolonged rendering time frustrated him to some degree. One day, while showing Mr. Eisenman the model and renderings of the project, he sat at my desk and anxiously waited for a rendering to complete. Finally his patience wore off and he asked, "Why are we not buying faster monitors?"

He was a witty, humble, and charming person to be around. In one of the office gatherings at the Glass House, I asked him, "This place is so perfectly peaceful and tranquil to focus on designing. Why do you need to go the city? You can work from here." He replied, "I go to the city because you live and work there."

Personally, I will miss him a lot and I will remember the precious moments in my life with him.

 

Raj Ahuja, AIA:
In 1973, I traveled with Philip Johnson to Bombay to start the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) project. We were attending a meeting with our client J.R.D. Tata, one of the richest industrialists in the world and an internationally known personality. At one point Mr. Tata took the pencil from Mr. Johnson's hand and started drawing. Without hesitation Mr. Johnson snatched back the pencil, broke it into two and tossed it in the trash can, saying, "You simply talk and I will draw. I am THE ARCHITECT." Everyone in the room, including senior trustees of the NCPA, was shocked as no one would ever dare talk back to Mr. Tata.

Another time, while I was sitting with Mr. Johnson in his room, the phone rang. It was Bill Paley of CBS who said, "Philip, my bathroom needs some work, can you come now?" "Sure, right away." Philip jumped from his seat and took a cab to Mr. Paley's apartment. Soon afterward we were designated the architect for the Museum of Broadcasting in New York which was being sponsored by Mr. Paley. Such was Mr. Johnson, who, in an instant will make the right judgment and decision when it came to dealing with present and future clients and other people around him.

 

Kurt Andersen:
Philip was always a perfect gentleman of the old school. But once I saw his wit and grace take an almost grandfatherly form.

It was at the end of a splendid fall day that I had spent with him at New Canaan, reporting an article I was writing for Vanity Fair. My wife and children arrived to pick me up. As he came out of the Glass House to greet them, casting long shadows in the golden, late afternoon sun, my then-four-year-old daughter surveyed the Empyrean scene and its ancient, white, wizard-ish lord.

He welcomed her, and she looked up at him and earnestly asked, "Were you here when the world first started?"

"At last," he replied, taking her two little hands in his, "someone who 'understands' me."

 

Joel Barkley:
I was twice a guest of Philip Johnson. The first time, Mr. Johnson invited me to his office in the Lipstick Building to show him the thesis project I'd just completed at Princeton. The project was to expand the Museum of Modern Art below Mr. Johnson's sculpture garden, and also to push upward with a residential tower.

The tower portion was an assemblage of bits of Mr. Johnson's modernist boxy clear/solid houses from the 1950s and 60s. It stood over the garden surface, which remained intact. I'd painted with Hans Haake-style reverence an oil portrait of Mr. Johnson from the 1950s, in the garden, as part of the work. When I pulled this from my portfolio, he said with apparent dismay, "Oh, why a picture from that period? I was fat!"

He broke from the conversation to take a call from Donald Trump, something involving the former Gulf and Western gold cladding, and then he immediately made another call to some unfortunate soul. "You need to learn to keep your [expletive deleted] mouth shut!" was all he said before hanging up and turning kindly again to me. "While the ideas of this work are interesting, remember that all that matters in architecture is beauty. Where are you going next?"

I explained to him that I'd just taken a job with Robert Stern. "At Princeton, Michael Graves once told us students that Bob Stern wanted to be the next Philip Johnson, so I figured it would be good to know him." Mr. Johnson only said, "Princeton is a pernicious place."

The second time I met him, 10 years later, was when a publisher-client invited me to see Mr. Johnson at the Glass House in New Canaan, along with the client's mother and some others. Coincidentally, my client had just completed a book featuring Mr. Johnson's houses, including many I'd analyzed in my thesis work.

I re-introduced myself, but as I had entered my own fat phase by then, I saw no recognition behind the heavy glasses. We left Mr. Johnson and the client's mother, who'd been acquainted for years, to tour the other structures with David Whitney. Mr. Johnson called as we left the house, "Be sure to see the gatehouse. It's my best work here."

We came back from the age-worn galleries, and found the two nonagenarians holding hands, whispering unintelligibly, cooing like lovebirds. They couldn't see us or hear us, as they stood with their backs to us before a huge sheet of plate glass looking out over the pond.

 

Donald A. Booth:
Working for Johnson, even in a junior position, there were so many small, startling moments. Once, in his carpeted 37th floor office at the Seagram Building, a few of us rolled out wallpaper for the bathroom in Johnson's apartment, then under construction in the (then) new MoMA Tower. The wallpaper was Andy Warhol's cows – something like bright pink cows' heads on a bright yellow background – and it was possible it had been sent over by Andy himself, so there was the suspicion that maybe it wasn't exactly wallpaper at all, but "real" art – we didn't know for sure. But there were only a few rolls, maybe not even enough. Johnson was excited to see it there, unrolled on the floor, and – gesticulating with his pencil – managed to punch a large hole in the soft paper. There was a moment of quiet shock– and I recall Johnson saying, "Keep me away from this!" or words to that effect. The "wallpaper" was successfully installed, as I later saw with my own eyes.

Amidst fascination with Johnson's power-brokering, people ignore – or are unaware of – his immense focus on how things looked, and his belief that a good way to know how things would – or could – look was actual observation, with dimensions included. He often kept a precise model of some current project on his desk – typically bare except for five or so pencils – and one afternoon, more or less on a whim, he and I walked from Park and 52nd Street down to Roche Dinkeloo's glassy U.N. Plaza at First Ave and 44th Street, observing and commenting all the while on curtainwall details. There was a lot of recent construction along Third Avenue at that time.

Few moments were more poignant than seeing Johnson wordlessly surveying the 36th floor drafting room at the Seagram Building – now totally empty except for a sprawl of old telephones not making the move to the new Lipstick Building office. Perhaps what was so strange was that it was well after 6 p.m. – maybe even 7 p.m. – and he was still there, briefly, in what was left of the office.

 

Hal Bromm:
Meeting Philip Johnson as a Pratt student was rather impressive. When I expressed indecision about my career plans, Philip immediately put me at ease by admitting he changed course many times, adopting architecture relatively late in life. "You can do anything" was his reply, and he was right.

 

Michael Cetera, AIA:
I worked on the North River Water Pollution Control project, as Chief Architect for NYC DEP, and am indebted to Philip Johnson for his inspirational plan for a park on the roof of the proposed sewage treatment plant in Harlem, which led to the development of the Riverbank State Park now in place.

 

J. Dean Chavooshian, AIA:
After earning an undergraduate degree in a different discipline, I entered a three-year graduate school program in architecture. I only wanted to work for one architect – Philip Johnson – because I thought the Pennzoil Building in Houston set a new standard of elegance and simplicity in that building type and because I considered his Pre-Columbian Museum at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC to be a jewel molded by genius. My dream came true and two weeks after graduation I started working in his office on the AT&T building. It was a heady time for architecture and for Mr. Johnson, who was featured on the cover of Time magazine. The recession of the early 1970s ended and there was a frenzy of architectural commissions. His habit during my three years at the office was to collect drawings every Friday from the design department, of which I was a member, and take them to his Glass House over the weekend to study and rework. Almost every Monday morning Mr. Johnson would deliver a big pile of yellow tracing paper with very crude scribbles which we would spend the next week "interpreting" into more finished drawings. This was my introduction to the world of architecture after school and, to this day, I feel honored to have had such a rich experience.

 

Elaine Lustig Cohen:
As a very young designer I was fortunate to have had the generous support and encouragement of Philip Johnson after the early death of my husband Alvin Lustig. Philip immediately put me to work on the signs and lettering for the Seagram building. His recommendation to clients and further work for his office set me off on my career. It was the early 1960s and I always wore my most mod outfit to our meetings...producing fabulous Philip comments.

 

Todd Dalland, FAIA:
As a sophomore in 1971, I started an after-hours "independent practice" at Cornell to pursue Frei Otto as the future of building through full-scale, design/build tensile structure experimentation, with real clients and projects (primarily exhibitions and concerts on campus, for university organizations). Around that time, after completing our first few tents, I remember sitting in the Green Dragon and reading a Philip Johnson quote somewhere (New York Times, Architectural Record?) stating that "the future of architecture is not Frei Otto." At the time, the remark served to draw the dividing lines even darker, and add fuel to our fire. It still does!

 

Theo. David, FAIA:
Some of my Yale classmates and I decided on a bright fall afternoon in 1964 to "see for ourselves" the Glass House. We stealthily approached the house on foot, content to view it from a distance. Suddenly, a pair of thick, black rimmed glasses on a wiry frame came charging toward us motioning us to stay way. We timidly cried out that we had no intention of asking to enter the house, to which came the owner's stern reply, "You are already in the house!"

 

John Morris Dixon, FAIA:
However fixated Johnson may have seemed on the aesthetics of design, he could also be a stickler for construction details – and an expert on some of them. Once when I was in his office, he took a call from an architect friend to whom he explained how to get thin joints in brickwork and the importance of controlling mortar color. After hanging up, he told me that when the sculpture gallery at his New Canaan compound was under construction another prominent architect urged him not to paint its brick walls white, but leave them "natural." He was shocked that such a respected architect didn't know that a wall like this one – casually laid up out of commonplace brick – was meant only to be painted.

In 1970, when I was writing about Philip's sculpture gallery on his New Canaan compound, I asked him when I could visit the place, and he proposed I come on a weekend. I made a sad face and said I really had to spend weekend time with my family – somewhat disingenuously, since work often trumped family on my weekends. Anyway, my ploy had the desired effect: he warmly urged me to bring along my wife and kids (then nine and seven). When we were there he surprised me by acting like a doting grandparent, plying the children with more Coke than they had ever consumed in one afternoon – but warning them repeatedly not to spill it on the Barcelona chairs or the white rug in his Glass House. When other guests dropped by, as many then did every weekend, the kids happily escorted groups down the hill to the miniature Classical pavilion on the pond. Clearly, giving them a good time was a high point of his weekend.

One time in the 1970s, when I was talking with Philip, he complained that the P/A Awards, and the magazines generally, were getting sidetracked from the core concerns of architecture by covering such areas as environmental research and urban planning. He urged us to follow the more design-focused lead of the Japanese magazine A+U. Turning to a member of his firm, he asked, "Now what does A+U stand for?" "Architecture and Urbanism" was the answer. "Oh, damn!" (or something to that effect), said Philip.

In 1980, Philip and I were members of an international jury assembled to judge a competition for development of the Les Halles site in Paris. French architects were outraged by the ugly, half-buried shopping mall that was being proposed for the site. Their hope (in vain, it turned out) was to find a counter-proposal so appealing to the public and to then-mayor Chirac that this great urban opportunity could be salvaged. Since my French is very rudimentary, I was assured that the judging would be conducted in two languages. As soon as we met, it was obvious that the other jurors from the United States, Diana Agrest and Philip, could converse in fluent French. We started with hundreds of entry boards, and I vividly recall that, as evaluation barely started on most of them, Philip would impatiently call out "laissé tomber" ("let it fall"). To the disappointment of some European jurors, who relished debating just about anything, the entry would drop to the floor and we would move on.

 

Jeffrey Feingold, AIA:
I attended a lecture at Yale given by Mr. Johnson in 1979. It was not given in the A&A lecture hall but in the first floor gallery to accommodate a large crowd. Cesar Pelli, dean at the time, was on the stage waiting for Johnson to arrive and make the introduction. Mr. Johnson was a little late but when he finally arrived the room was so packed that he literally could not make his way to the front through any aisle. Like Moses parting the seas, he casually picked his way through the thick mob of adoring students seated on the floor. I remember him stopping to look at someone's open sketchbook and remarking: "Ah, you can draw it, but can you build it?!" much to everyone's delight. He gave his talk with his back against the wall with the front row of the students at his feet barely five feet away. The most memorable thing he said was that as architects we must not put up with controlling clients. We must say: "No! You cannot build like that!" Everyone roared with approval at this idealistic thrust and went out into the night fortified with newly gained courage.

 

 


Courtesy Kristin Feireiss

Johnson (center) at Aedes Architecture Gallery, Berlin, with co-founder Kristin Feireiss and Prof. Kieren, looking at a model of Sauerbruch Hutton Architects’s GSW headquarters

 

 

Kristin Feireiss, Berlin:
I met Philip Johnson only a few times, but every meeting had something special for me. First, he showed up spontaneously more than 15 years ago at my Aedes Architecture Gallery in Berlin. He came to me with his special smile, somehow naive, somehow curious (neugierig) and said: "I heard it is a good place for architecture." I saw him next at the exhibition opening of Sauerbruch/ Hutton, when we presented their GSW high-rise building, which was very much discussed at that time in Berlin. Philip looked at the model very carefully and said to the architects: "Don't worry, it is a great project and believe me, it will be built." Finally, years later, it was built and was the start of the career of two very talented architects, Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton.

Years later, when I was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, I met Philip again, this time in New Canaan. It was in winter 2000 and it was snowing. First, he asked me to look at his most recent building, the small pavilion at the entrance. He was so proud of it. His comment: "I love this tiny building most of all." Then, sitting in his glass cube and looking at the snow around while drinking tea, I asked Philip if he was interested in designing the installation for a major exhibition devoted to J.J.P. Oud (1890-1963), who was a close friend of his.

From the time of their first encounter in 1930, Oud and Johnson corresponded regularly on a wide range of subjects. Philip's response to this invitation was enthusiastic. He proposed to design a special object rather than an exhibition design and it was definitely special: The design was made up of two curvilinear forms, both executed in different shades of white, that reached to the very top of the main exhibition hall of the NAI, which is about 27 feet high. His gigantic sculpture-like installation, which he called "the welcoming arms," conjures up a dialogue between the work of both architects and also underlines the common thrust of their aims. But most particularly, the installation points to Johnson's design views at that time.

Philip could not join the opening, he was too weak. But we taped an interview with him for the visitors of the exhibition and we also made a video of the exhibition so that he could see his masterpiece.

The exhibition was an overwhelming success and Philip was very happy about it. When I met him the last time he said, as always with his unique smile: "You are the only one who gave me the opportunity to do such an installation. I hope it is not the last." It was his first and his last – and it was great.

 

David Gauld, AIA:
As a junior at Harvard, I was choosing the topic of my senior thesis when Philip Johnson's AT&T building design was announced with great fanfare. I decided that my thesis would be on this other Harvard person whose career, and especially his stylistic sea-change, captured my imagination. Research and writing on this remarkable figure occasioned several direct encounters, not all auspicious, with Johnson himself.

A week before I was to visit Johnson in his Seagram Building office for a scheduled interview, I decided to pass by the Glass House. In my youthful enthusiasm, I began to walk around the grounds. It hadn't occurred to me that I was trespassing. When I ran into Johnson, he told me sternly that I should never come there again on a weekend. When I interviewed him at his office the following week, he made no mention of my transgression and was totally charming.

 

Michael Graves, FAIA:
Philip Johnson was such a "cheerleader" for architecture that he would take every opportunity to encourage young architects and provoke dialogue about the profession. All of us who "grew up" around Philip have many stories to tell.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Philip wrote to a number of young architects, some of whom he'd never met, and invited us to lunch at the Glass House. His letter said, "Since so many of you have asked me to help you obtain commissions, I thought it high time to put such promising young architects together with potential clients." Of course we all arrived expecting the next great house commission. Instead, we found that the so-called clients were rather junior members of various city agencies that would interview the likes of us from time to time but never give us work.

So there we were, the young architects who all knew each other, sitting on the stone wall at one end of Philip's garden eating our box lunches. And there, at the other end of the garden, were the clients, who also knew each other well. The two groups didn't mix at all, except for one young architect who talked only with the clients and to this day continues to have more work than the rest of us!

After the clients left, a few of us sat around with Philip and talked about architecture long into the night. It turned out to be the most marvelous and memorable evening. From then on, several of us who were there that day never stopped talking to Philip, and we continue to love to talk about architecture, in part because of Philip's enthusiastic engagement in the debate.

 

Percy C. Griffin, AIA, R.A.:
I began working in the office of Philip Johnson in 1967—one of two African Americans working in the office at the time. When I started, I was not a graduate of an architectural degree program. However, the office environment and exposure to Philip Johnson encouraged me to continue my education and obtain my degrees.

I had no money, but dreamed of going to school full time at a university. In the late 1960s, there were not many blacks who could afford to attend a university, and fewer still studying architecture. Nevertheless, I approached Mr. Johnson and apprised him of my intention to go to school full time. I asked if I could work part time in his office. He told me that he did not allow that. As I approached the door, he called me back and informed me that his office would accommodate my school schedule. He allowed me to study architecture full time at City University of New York and continue working in his office without any decrease in salary.

I have many fond memories of the five years I worked in the office. I was treated with respect. He was a progressive man. He knew how important my struggle was and even went so far as to give me personal critiques on my school projects. Whenever he had gatherings and office parties he invited me to attend along with the staff where I was exposed to some of the great creative minds of that time.

I graduated from City College in 1972, receiving the highest honor that could be bestowed to any architecture student. I obtained my registration shortly after that and left Johnson's office. He agreed with my decision because he felt that I was very ambitious and needed to spread my wings. I will always appreciate the support he gave to me as I developed my talent.

 

Frances Halsband, FAIA:
It was the first annual Mary Buckley scholarship dinner for Pratt. I was the dean of the architecture school and they asked me to get involved. I had the architecture students cut out 200 pairs of black cardboard Philip Johnson glasses, and everyone wore them. One of the students made a special gift for Philip, a chess board, with all the architects in New York as pawns, and Philip as the queen. He loved it.

 

Bruce Higgins, Assoc. AIA:
Over the last 37 years I've known several professionals who were close to Philip Johnson, including one of my best friends, a former Pratt Institute professor who was one of Philip's closest friends during the 1940s. For all that, I only had one contact with Philip. It was in the spring of 1981, early on a weekday afternoon, when I was a third-year architecture student en route to a design studio class on the downtown Lexington Avenue express train. I was standing, carrying a roll of drawings under my arm, and reading the September 1977 issue of The Architectural Review, which featured a drawing of Brunelleschi's dome on the cover.

At the Grand Central stop, Philip Johnson, dressed in a tux, got on the train with fellow architect John Burgee, with armfuls of presentation cases. They took one of the long seats opposite to where I was standing, and spread their materials out between them. As the train took off, I was torn: I wanted very much to say something, anything, about the current state of architecture to Mr. Johnson; I also did not want to invade what little personal space he had in that subway car. He made it easy for me. I had just returned to reading when I felt someone's eyes on me. I looked over the page, and there was Philip Johnson looking at me intently, from behind his trademark black-rimmed glasses. When he saw that he had my attention, he smiled and pointed to my magazine cover. I pointed to the dome with a questioning look. He nodded and gave it two thumbs up. The cover illustration clearly showed the dome's structure. As I ran my fingers over the dome's details, Mr. Johnson kept nodding approval. I grimaced and shrugged, challenging him with a look as if to say, so what's the big deal? He turned his hand into the profile of the dome and pointed to places on his fingers matching those on the dome, giving the okay sign to each. I laughed and he laughed, and the train raced into Union Square. As he and Mr. Burgee got off the train he turned to me once more and waved good-bye.

 

Gerald D. Hines:
Philip Johnson's legacy is more than just beautiful buildings; it also resides in the work of a generation of architects he inspired. He was one of America's greatest innovators of the 20th century, and it was a thrill to work with him.

 

Martin Holub, AIA:
I met Philip Johnson twice in my life. The first time was at a Christmas party in 1974. When the hostess introduced us and he found out that I was an architect in private practice, he told me: "Go East, young man, go to Iran. Money grows on trees there, and any architect who wants to build should be there." He wasn't interested in further conversation with me, so I didn't have an opportunity to tell him that I was leaving for Tehran in a month on a consulting assignment for a local developer.

The second time was in 1987, at a retirement party for a MoMA curator in the museum's sculpture garden. On that occasion, unprompted, he told me: "My seventies, that is, the eighth decade of my life, was the happiest of them all. I had more fun, designed more buildings, and made more money than in any other time of my life." And then he walked away.

 

Jim Hotaling:
I had the honor of representing the Denver Planning Office on a committee interviewing prospective architects for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts concert hall in the early 1970s. After preliminary introductions, Johnson charmed us all, noting that "Denver is so Western, I mean, you have cows!" I believe a livestock exhibition was on at the time, and some of the livestock are put up (if that's the right expression) in some of the downtown parking garages. I don't think we bothered to explain to P.J. that it was not a typical situation; maybe the image would give us some panache back East?

 

Nat Hoyt, AIA:
In 1975, as I entered my first year at the GSD, the profession was in the midst of the recession, and the mood at the school was dire. The Visiting Committee was scheduled to be in Cambridge, and arranged for an open meeting to hear students' concerns. As a member of the Visiting Committee, Johnson sat with the other members at a table in front of a packed classroom of students, all voicing concerns about the relevance of the education we were receiving, and how the school and the profession at large could prepare us to deal with what looked to be an ever diminishing role for architects. The various committee members all voiced their sympathies, but expressed their frustration with the economic climate as well. Finally, the Chairman of the committee said, "Look, we're in this as much as you are – we're not sure where the profession is headed." And then he turned to a silent, grinning Johnson and said, "Yes Philip, we know you know, but no one else does."

 

Stover Jenkins:
I have many personal recollections of Philip Johnson which will always be with me. But one recollection is a testimonial to Johnson himself – the impact he had on his clients. I gained this insight by talking to his clients. from 40 and 50 years ago while I was writing a book on Philip Johnson's houses. His former clients were imaginative and dynamic in their own right – much like their architect, and they enjoyed talking about their experience with Philip Johnson.

Many accounts were surprising and unexpected –they were always energized and enthusiastic. Richard Hodgson, who commissioned one of Johnson's earliest houses in New Canaan, told of the time he was watering his new flower bed and a giant car drove through an opening in the stone wall and over the young flowers – it was Mies van der Rohe, looking for the Glass House.

James A. D. Geier in 1964 commissioned Johnson to design his highly unusual underground house on a lake. "We had a marvelous time designing the house. Philip would take me to see buildings he was working on, such as the New York State Pavilion and the Theatre at Lincoln Center," Geier said. When he later wanted to add a guest house, Johnson, not wanting to destroy the composition of the original house, sketched a solution – a floating bedroom on a barge with cables underneath, attached to the house, with a powerful electric winch. "He was a disciplinarian. The house had huge amounts of discipline." (The barge was never built.)

Wylie Tuttle, who ultimately did not build Johnson's design yet was full of respect for him 40 years later, remembered the creativity and enthusiasm of the endeavor with excitement and a tinge of regret for not building: "I think Philip was the greatest influence on American architecture of the 20th century." For Wylie, Johnson designed two fantasy houses in the Connecticut countryside that were so expensive they couldn't be built. One was a 100-foot by 100-foot platform-in-the sky based on Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, sans columns; the second was a house with 75 large brick cylinders anchoring it to the ground. In Johnson's defense, Wiley did tell him to "go for it." After not building the Johnson house, Wylie was still dying to do a project with him, and years later, after being designated as the developer for a building over Grand Central Station, he called Johnson: "I called up Philip Johnson and asked him if he would like to be the architect on this building. There was a very long pause…. and then, he said, 'I always do things wrong! My timing is terrible! I wish I could build your building. I made it clear to Mrs. Kennedy to oppose the construction of a building over Grand Central Station.'" It's part of New York City architectural folklore – how Philip Johnson and Jackie Kennedy marched together through the streets to save Grand Central Station.

 


Courtesy Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA

  Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA
In October '95, I was at Phillip Johnson's house in Connecticut. After much coercing, he posed for a photo (rather stiffly!) with my then-two-year old daughter in front of the entry pavilion.

 

Sam Hall Kaplan:
Though no longer with us, Philip Johnson continues to generate interest. I have been fumbling through old folders looking for the neatly typed and signed note he sent me in response to a commentary I had written about him back when he fancied himself the doyen of architecture. Not having been blessed with a free lunch at the Four Seasons as had many other so-called critics in his continual quest for publicity, I thought perhaps I could sell the letter and with the proceeds at least buy a meal at his favorite table. Did meet and shake his hand a few times, and remember it to be tentative and clammy, and his brief comments to be disdainful. Didn't think of him much as an architect but as a promoter, and said so in the column to which he took exception. Here is the paragraph from the column that appeared in the L.A. Times on July 24, 1988:

"As a promoter, Johnson usually has been a little late in picking up trends, and when he has, tends to associate with an idea man. For Modernism, it was with Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Alfred Barr and the mounting of the famed 1932 show, which came very much in the wake of Schindler, Neutra and the Bauhaus; for fascism, (the infamous anti-Semite) Father Charles Edward Coughlin, in 1939, when Germany already was on the march; and for Postmodernism, embracing Michael Graves after Robert Venturi and Charles Moore had stirred the waters and Charles Jencks had bottled it..."

Philip Johnson served himself well, but not architecture, and his cultivation of the architect-as-celebrity, I fear, will haunt us and the profession long after he is confused with the ubiquitous Howard Johnson's food and lodging chain.

 

Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA:
Both Philip Johnson and Max Abramovitz were judges on my Master's Thesis jury at Princeton. They were about the same age, and good friends. My thesis topic, "Acoustics as a Determinant of Architectural Form," appealed to both of them – one had just designed the New York State Theater, and the other Avery Fisher Hall. My design topic was a symphony hall for a large city. What I remember best was that Max and Philip in short order developed a good cop/bad cop routine in reviewing my design at the oral – Max was kindly and avuncular, Philip sharp and cutting. But all ended well, and Philip subsequently showed me many courtesies, including lunch when he was in his early 90s.

As most folks know, Philip Johnson designed a number of houses, including his own 1949 house in New Canaan, before getting his license. He finally resolved to take the exam in Connecticut. One of the exam questions in the History and Theory section, legend has it, was: "Why did Philip Johnson use a transparent envelope for his New Canaan house?" Johnson reportedly wrote: "Because I damn well wanted to."

 

Peter Krasnow, FAIA:
I attended Pratt Institute from1960-1965 and enjoyed many visiting guest critics. One was Phillip Johnson, who was charming and insightful.

Years later, around 1987, the year when "Back to the Future" was in theaters and featured the Gamble House (a 1908 design by Greene and Greene architects), I met Johnson again.

I was in California visiting friends near L.A. and we all visited the Gamble House. When we arrived for a tour it was closed for the day. Just as we were about to leave I noticed Johnson walking out the door with the director of house tours. I walked over to him, shook his hand, and said hello; he replied: "Pratt 1960s." I couldn't believe he remembered me by sight and recalled when and where we met; and then through his persuasion, we were given a private tour of the house. A little story that to this day still impresses me.

 

John Lee, AIA:
In 1996, I was involved in a project in Shanghai in which the owners, eager to get a taste of Western stardom, decided to hire Mr. Johnson to design a very public component of the project. I remember sending to his office a photo of the frenzied street in front of the site. It must have shown a million people walking in every possible direction, trampling the site of his future design. My first thought was that Mr. Johnson would have a heart attack, and that he would think twice about taking on the project. However, when we arrived at his office for our first meeting, he was genuinely ecstatic about the possibilities of working in such a new and unpredictable time and place. He loved that photo. Eventually, his enthusiasm spread to the team. Unfortunately, he grew ill shortly afterwards and couldn't act on his excitement. It was a disappointment, but it showed me that his curiosity and energy were palpable, genuine, and timeless.

 

Hilary Lewis, author:
During the 12 years that I worked with Philip Johnson on books and publications, I almost always met with him in New York or Connecticut. However, in June 1999 I had the opportunity to see him in a very different environment when we traveled to the Venice Biennale for an exhibition of his work. At the time, he was just shy of 93 years old.

Two events from that trip come to mind. The first was a visit to the nearby island of Torcello, which has a Byzantine church that dates back to the 11th century. Johnson was being celebrated by two of his clients: Francesco Illy, the founder of Illy Café, who had commissioned Johnson to design a china pattern that today is used in New York's Four Seasons Restaurant; and Jorge Vergara, a prominent Guadalajara-based businessman who had asked Johnson to design a children's museum in Mexico. In addition to a lunch on the island hosted by these patrons, there was a visit to the aforementioned church, which is best known for its Byzantine mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries. I noticed Johnson was extremely taken with the church's decoration and asked him if he had been to Torcello before. He recalled that he had been to this church a long time ago, "I think it was…," his voice growing too soft for me to hear the end of his sentence, although I did catch the word "twenty-five." Needing clarification, I asked, "Was it when you were 25 or was it in '25?" This amused him. He answered, "Does it matter?"

Another story from that trip concerned Johnson's speech at the University of Venice. The lecture hall was filled to capacity with voluble students who welcomed Johnson enthusiastically. He spoke passionately about the need to consider new ideas in architecture and specifically mentioned the work of Frank Gehry – Johnson had already been to Bilbao multiple times. Johnson made a point, as he often did, of reminding his listeners that architecture continues to change and that the giants of 20th-century modernism were great, but of the past. I recall his admonishing the students, "Le Corbusier has been dead for over 30 years!" The audience responded with gusto and applause at the appropriate points. Afterwards, those of us with Johnson commended him on his performance. He responded, "I hope they spoke English."

 

Marvin A. Mass:
Philip Johnson was always a friend of mine and he inspired some of the great architects of my generation. He always had something to say about everything.

I worked with Philip for almost 40 years on such buildings as the Crystal Cathedral, AT&T Headquarters, his home in New Canaan, the Lipstick Building, International Place in Boston – I could go on forever.

Each of Philip's buildings was unique and helped develop a new program for modern architecture; it was either constructivism or modernism, de-constructivism or whatever else the client wanted to see. He inspired so many great architects and had the admiration of everybody in our industry. What he did for MoMA is historic, for without him and his ideas and leadership, the installation would not be what it is today.

Philip was always a nervous person, always encouraging people to move faster, to keep going. I remember sitting in the back seat of his car going to John Dinkeloo's funeral and John Burgee was driving. Philip kept egging him on, "hurry up," "pass that guy," "what's taking so long?" "let's get there."

I remember at Gordon Bunshaft's memorial service, they asked Philip to say something. As I remember, he said, "Gordon and I never agreed on anything and never liked each other. I never thought very much about him, but now that he is dead, let me tell you, he was a GREAT architect."

When Philip was retained by the Chiofaro Company to build the International Center in Boston (this was after the AT&T Building, Lipstick Building, etc.). I remember him presenting the models of the two buildings which had flat tops to Don Chiofaro and Ted Oatis. Ted turned to Philip, who had just completed other buildings in Houston and New York with very ornate tops, and asked, "What's this top going to be like?" Philip said, "Oh, I'm through with that shit. From now on, flat tops."

One year we wanted to honor him as a leader in our industry in the architectural division of Israel Bonds, which he accepted. After announcing his acceptance to the committees, one or two people objected to him being honored and it was my task to inform him that there was hesitancy among the Board members. When I told him of this, he instantly said, "I totally understand how they feel. I'm sorry for what I did as a kid and I thank you for having thought about me and do not feel any remorse at not being honored."

About 20 years ago my son graduated from Harvard Law School and I wanted to take him to lunch at the Four Seasons. I couldn't get a reservation so I called Philip to see if he could arrange it. About an hour later his secretary called to say that I had a 12:30 reservation. We were ushered to Philip's table (which was "reserved" for him every day unless he called to say he wasn't coming). Throughout lunch, people came over to the table asking where Philip was. He came in later and sat somewhere else. P.S. He paid for the lunch. I'll miss him.

 

Jim McAuliffe, RA:
I remember meeting Mr. Johnson three times when I lived in New York. Once was in front of the MoMA tower while he appeared to be on his way home. Another time I met him at the old Rizzoli bookstore on 57th Street at a book signing fiesta with the New York Five (he made some smart comments to me as I waited for Michael Graves).

But the best one was at a book signing he had at the Urban Center for the book about his Glass House (Philip Johnson: The Glass House). He was only there for a short time, and the event ended at 6 p.m. or so. I was late and rushed up the stairs to find him sitting with an aide at a table in the lobby outside the bookstore. I asked if I was too late and the aide suggested that time was up. Mr. Johnson interrupted and said he would sign one more book. I made my purchase and returned to the table. Has asked about me, what kind of work I did (I am an architect), and other small talk. I made a comment to the effect that I was just a poor architect who liked collecting books. His eyes lit up and he said he would give me a special inscription. "To a poor architect, best of luck – Philip Johnson." I still have the book.

 

Victoria Milne:
In the distant past, when I was a fevered and young design journalist, Blueprint magazine sent me to review a re-creation of Johnson's International Style exhibition that an architecture student named Riley had put together at Columbia. I exploited this thin premise to interview Johnson.

In a moment that I can now only excuse as being excessively influenced by the time, I asked him if he had any reflections on the fact that the work he had championed in the International Style exhibition was all dead white European males.

He leaned forward. He had me repeat the question. And he considered his response. Finally, elegantly, he gave me a long version of "no." But I'm pretty sure this was the first time he heard the phrase.

 

Christopher Mount:
Six years ago, while I was a curator in the Architecture and Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art, I began preparations for an exhibition that would examine the issues and problems of the automobile in the coming century. The exhibition I curated was eventually called "Different Roads: Automobiles for the Next Century," and opened in the summer of 1999. Philip found out about it and arranged to take me and Terry Riley to lunch to try to convince me that his beloved new VW Beetle deserved to be included amongst this new breed of technically advanced and economical machines.

Even at his advanced age and after my nearly 12 years of curatorial work in the department, I still found Philip intimidating. He, of course, knew this and used it to his advantage. We sat at his customary table at the Four Seasons and he disparaged my choice of a gin martini over his favorite, vodka. Then, in his indomitable way, he proceeded to tell me that everything on the menu was good except for one thing. After I ordered the soft-shell crab, Philip leaned into to me and said, "That is it – the one thing that isn't good here." I laughed and just continued to argue the reasons the Beetle shouldn't be included. After lunch was over and he had given up the cause of the Beetle, the waiter came over and asked, "Mister Johnson, would you like dessert?" "No," he answered, "just the cookies." In that old crackle of a voice and in a conspiratorial manner, Philip leaned in close to me and proudly whispered, "I never have dessert here; I have saved a million dollars in life, just having the free cookies." With that we both giggled and enjoyed the rest of our lunch.

 

Michael J. Murno, AIA:
One of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences that I have had took place one spring afternoon after lunch at the fourth year design studio on the University of Illinois campus. I had arrived early and started to work on my design project for a new campus at Eureka College, Mr. Johnson's alma mater, when a quiet and distinguished looking gentleman came over to me and started to discuss and critique my work. Feeling slightly defensive, I was wondering who he was when he introduced himself by saying, "Excuse me for not introducing myself, I'm Philip Johnson."

After I regained consciousness and he had helped me back up, we went on to discuss the design. When the professor arrived and asked why Mr. Johnson had come to our school unannounced, Mr. Johnson told him, "I came to see the students, not the faculty," and he went to every student to discuss their work with them. As a result, this project has always been my most successful and rewarding work.

 

Laurie Mutchnik Maurer, FAIA:
I was the first woman to be hired by Philip Johnson in September 1957. I had graduated from Pratt that summer and had a letter of reference from Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, who was the history professor at Pratt and my mentor (although that was not a word used back then).

Arriving at his office on East 49th Street, it was clear that they did not know what to do with me and I was immediately put into a taxi and sent off to the field office of the Seagram Building, which was then under construction. I spent almost two years there, working on the building and the Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants. I learned more than imaginable about architecture and the way buildings go together, doing details dimensioned to 1/64"and seeing them built that way.

I do not remember Philip Johnson himself spending much time in that field office, although visits by Mies were special occasions. Over the years, I have often felt that an opportunity to work on such a project in an office filled with very, very good architects was one that I should have paid for – like tuition at school. I recall Philip Johnson with fondness for giving me such an opportunity.

 

Rolf Ohlhausen, FAIA:
I was asked by the New School University to restore and add to Joseph Urban's wonderful oval auditorium, completed in 1931. In my research I discovered that this white painted auditorium had originally been finished in Urban's rich palette of reds, ochres, and grays. After taking 85 paint chips to a lab, we rediscovered the original colors.

The New School Building was the first building in New York City built with ribbon windows, cantilevered floors, and other elements of the new style of Modern Architecture.

In Columbia's Avery Hall I found a brilliant critical review, written by Philip Johnson in 1931, which concluded that Urban really didn't understand Modernism and what became known as the International Style. (Johnson did not include this striking "Moderne" building in the Museum of Modern Art's International Style Exhibit in 1932.)

Sixty years later I sent Philip this review and invited him to see the restored auditorium. We walked into this glorious colorful egg-shaped hall and I asked him what he thought of it. Philip exclaimed "What did we know in those days?"

 

Herbert Oppenheimer, FAIA:
We were crossing Park Avenue, dodging through the traffic, on our way to a construction meeting at the Museum of Modern Art. This was 1958, I believe. There had been a fire at the museum and Mr. Johnson had the assignment of restoring the museum and adding a major new exit tower in the northeast corner of the site. I was bold enough to suggest we wait for the light to change. We were on time for this bi-weekly meeting with his close friends Alfred Barr and Rene Dononcourt. "Herbie," he replied, "It's important to be first at a meeting. It gives you an advantage when the others then arrive."

I spent three marvelous years at the office of Philip Johnson, working on the Seagram Building, several museums, and Lincoln Center. His intellectual clarity was consistently brilliant.

I will also always remember Philip's eulogy at a large service for Henry Russell Hitchcock. He said that Russell had always been his dearest friend from the time they met at Harvard. He said that Russell's evaluation of architecture was always correct. He described his last conversation with Russell, who was now confined to his bed, when Russell said to him, "The work you have been doing recently is not very good." It was an amazing admission that could only be made by the most devoted artist and professional.

After the service, we spoke briefly. I recalled a story about aging and art that Josef Albers told me at Black Mountain College in 1942. The Japanese artist Hokusai at age 88 said if he could live to be 100 he would do his best work. Philip enjoyed that story and told me of his recent visit to his doctor. "He told me if I ever stop working, I'll die, so I will never stop working."

 

 


Courtesy Kristin Feireiss

Johnson-designed J.J.P. Oud (1890-1963) exhibition, Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam, 2001

 

 

Don Porter, London, England:
I worked with Philip for 10 years, from 1985 to 1994. In the latter four years I worked with him to set up Philip Johnson Architects after Johnson/Burgee went out of business, and helped manage the business with him. I spent many hours each day with him, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Philip had a great sense of humor, and was a vivacious raconteur. He also had experiences with many prominent citizens from a number of generations.

I remember he told me that he had a somewhat competitive relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright. When Frank visited the Glass House, he exclaimed: "Philip, what a wonderful structure. But please tell me if I should take off my hat. Am I inside or am I outside?" Knowing FLW's predilections, this would not be a complimentary comment. On another occasion, FLW saw him at a party in NYC, and yelled across the room: "Philip, how are you? I thought you were dead!"

 

Ronnette Riley, FAIA:
I have spent many moments since Philip Johnson's passing reflecting on the impact he has had on my career and my enthusiasm for architecture. Few articles I've read about him recently have fully captured the Philip I knew.

The Philip I remember was my employer beginning in 1980, when I arrived from San Francisco with a desire to design skyscrapers. Within a year and a half I was running my own project: the "Lipstick Building" at 885 Third Avenue. It was a small project – only 34 stories. All the higher-ups were busy with much larger projects.

The firm operated differently from other offices in town. We worked from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and no one had a key to the office. There was no overtime expected or uncompensated. Everyone treated Philip with respect and he treated everyone with respect. The design process was truly collaborative. Staff drew up Philip's ideas and then presented them to him, and we were encouraged to draw up our own ideas as well. Philip had a hand in every project on the boards, and sometimes there would be a line of project architects outside his office waiting to present. Fridays were hectic as we prepared items for him to review over the weekend at the Glass House. Monday mornings were equally hectic when he returned with his comments.

His desk was always clean, with a telephone, a collection of sharpened pencils, and monogrammed scales in a cylinder on a side table. He had a habit of chewing on his pencils lead end first. These became collectors' items around the office.

Philip was strongly referential and at certain points we would just ask him on what page in what book we could find the image so we could do our designs accordingly.

I remember most the humorous side of Philip. Once, when asked about the Glass House, he commented the house was nothing – it was all about the wallpaper. When we made a mistake about the color of the window mullions on the Lipstick Building, Philip commented that it was like the bubbles in champagne. "They're annoying but they add to the experience."

Working for Philip was very special, something I value highly. It's almost indescribable how wonderfully freeing it was to take on the projects we did at that office. It was the best confidence-builder any young architect – and especially a woman architect – could ask for. I will miss him.

 

Terry Riley, AIA:
I would often meet Philip Johnson at his office at the end of the day to talk over ideas. To continue the conversation I would walk him to his home, located about three blocks from his office at the time. The first time I did so, I recall that we waited for the green light at Lexington Avenue and as soon as we crossed the street, he began to sort of jog, without missing a beat in what he was saying. Keeping up with him, I asked why he was rushing. His reply? "If you want to catch the green light at Park Avenue you have to hurry!" I have always wondered what it was about Philip that, at the age of 90, gave him so much energy and so little patience. I am not sure I know but he was always someone to keep up with.

 

Peter Samton, FAIA:
When I was AIA Chapter President in 1976-1977, one of the Directors was Robert A. M. Stern. He and a few others, including Charlie Gwathmey and Richard Meier, were concerned that Philip Johnson's health was deteriorating, and that the AIA needed to do something quickly to show its appreciation. The profession was in a sorry state, at the end of a gripping recession and everything looked rather bleak.

So we decided to fête Philip in the lobby of the Seagram Building, much of it sponsored by George Klein, one of his big patrons at that time. It was a very upbeat event, with Johnson in super form, dismissing the bad state of architecture as a momentary phenomenon with his inimitable charm and timely quips. It was a shot in the arm that we all needed at that moment.

 

Thomas L. Schumacher:
I met Philip Johnson twice, back in 1967. The first time was at a luncheon at the Museum of Modern Art on the occasion of the opening of an exhibit on which I collaborated, called "The New City: Architecture and Urban Renewal." Four university groups of architects made projects for Harlem in what was the first instance of MoMA commissioning a project. The show opened Johnson's new wing.

Johnson sat next to me at the lunch. I remember him commenting on the residential towers that our team (Colin Rowe, Fred Koetter, Jerry Wells, and I, with a few assistants) had placed at wide intervals along a new park we had designed for upper Fifth Avenue. He told me Corbu was wrong, that New York skyscrapers weren't too small and too many, and that ours were too few and too far apart.

The second time we met was on the Rome Prize interview, where Johnson was one of the jurors. It was daunting. The other jurors that year were Aldo Giurgola, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Walker Cain, and Robert Venturi. Johnson, who was less acquainted with Rome than the others, kept silent almost the whole time, and he left before the interview was over. I thought he looked ill at ease in a context not under his control.

 

Ysrael A. Seinuk, P.E.:
In 1956 I was a "rookie" engineer working for Luis Saenz in Cuba when Philip Johnson was awarded the new Riviera Hotel project in Havana. The firm was the premier engineering firm in Cuba, and one of the largest and most prestigious structural engineering firms in Latin America. Philip had produced a magnificent conceptual design which was later substituted for a more conventional hotel design by Polevitsky and Johnson. The original model was so outstanding that a photograph of the model is included in a recent book on the architecture of Havana, despite the fact that it was never built.

In 1998 I was also privileged to design the structure for "The Monsta," a visitors pavilion at the entrance to his estate. Philip had envisioned a sculptural building that defied conventional geometric-shaped structures. In his book Philip Johnson – The Architect in His Own Words, he writes: "I've always experimented both with the structure as well as with the form. And so this time I experimented with a new kind of wall. My engineer, Ysrael Seinuk, introduced me to this way of building." Philip was so gracious to share with me the achievement of this concept that would perpetuate his legacy. This was one of the most meaningful experiences of my career.

My wife and I visited Philip at his estate on several occasions, where we were able to view his private collections and share in fascinating conversation. I consider it a great privilege to have known Philip Johnson and to have worked with him for almost half a century.

 

Chad Smith:
A year ago I redesigned the floor plan for the new residential building Philip Johnson designed on Spring Street, the "Urban Glass House." The plans were awful (the exterior an extrusion of his house), and I turned them into flowing, modernist spaces by studying his own Glass House. I enjoyed the process, redesigning something for an architect I've never met, my former office in a tense relationship with his, yet my design clearly winning the day over a design some lackey in his office had put together, a design that looked like a developer's apartment layout. I figured that Mr. Johnson would appreciate the promiscuity of the process, and the fact that in the end, the best design wins – a fitting homage.

 

Michael Harris Spector, FAIA:
A chance encounter in the offices of developers Mel Kaufman and Gerald Hines in 1975 led to a critique by Philip Johnson of our drawings for an early Spector Group office building. It was a humbling experience for me as he compared the building to "a sculpture, not like some of those boxes being designed." Words of high praise for this young, aspiring architect. That's when I started wearing the same eyeglasses as he wore!

 

K. Jeffries Sydness, AIA:
During the heady days of the 1980s, I had the good fortune to spend considerable time with Mr. Johnson, in his office on the 37th floor of the Seagram Building. Sketching on 12-inch rolls of yellow trace with the preferred No. 2 Black Warrior pencils, it was a time when we were working primarily on large office buildings in major cities around the country, and a few of us associates had the "ice cream" job of working directly with him on the design phases. We were frequently interrupted by phone calls from well known people in the arts or New York society. . He had the ability to switch gears immediately and go from examining the proportions of an elevation to a phone call discussing his dinner partner's manner the previous evening and back to the elevation without missing a beat. While his architecture has been and will be debated for many years, the character trait I admired most was his unwavering confidence. Once a design direction was determined, there was rarely a retreat and second guessing of the direction. This was a valuable lesson that we strive to continue in our practice today.

I have many great memories of my 13 years with him. Those of us who had the opportunity to work with him will miss his sharp wit and cutting humor. He had a great run!

 

Wendy Talarico:
The Time I Asked Philip about Rearranging the Furniture in the Glass House

In the early autumn of 2000, I found myself at the Glass House with Philip Johnson and Les Robertson. I was writing an article that I hoped would blossom into a book. It never did; at that time it seemed no one wanted to publish anything about an architect whose work was, to quote one publisher, "passé," and a structural engineer whose most famous pair of buildings was still standing.

We arrived early; Philip was at his best early in the day. He was sleeping in an older home on the property but, every morning, he was driven down to his masterpiece to spend the day.
Les and I met Philip on the lawn and walked into the Glass House together. At the age of 94, Philip was slow and stooped. But he had a wiry strength, like as if a piece of rebar threaded through his soul.

I perched on one of the Mies van der Rohe chairs – the ones you can't get out of once you've slid into position at the back of the seat – and set my tape recorder on the table. I never use a tape recorder when interviewing anyone, but I wanted to catch every word this man said. I later had the tapes transcribed and got back all of my own booming and ingratiating comments, many of Les's soft words, but not a single one of Philip's. His voice was so faint the tape recorder didn't pick up any of it.

We sat and talked for about two hours. All the while, Philip scanned the horizon. I think his mind recorded every inch of that view, the location of every copse, every rock, and every tree. He even recognized the birds and talked about the ones that lived there, that shared his aerie.
Then I asked him if he ever rearranged the furniture in the Glass House. There was a long silence as he looked at me through those round black glasses. Glancing around the room and gesturing at it with his hand, he said, "Why would I rearrange something that is perfect just as it is? Would you rearrange Chartres Cathedral?"

Afterward, Les and I walked the grounds together. The buildings were in terrible shape. I remember asking Les how things could disintegrate so quickly, how a place that is so valuable and so rare could be allowed to fall apart. Les, ever philosophical, said, "This is all Philip. This is who he was and now it is who he is."

 

Tapani Talo, AIA:
I wish I was able to write and "schmooze" as well as Mr. Johnson did for our clients for London Bridge, Port America, Times Square, Detroit, and Pontiac Marina between 1986 and 1992.

There was never a moment of half-baked ideas, as we started every project with maximum bang, but then backtracked to traditional developer aesthetics within hours if the original design was too much for the "tender" client. From a loose sketch, we had to interpret the theme in minutes, and then refine it in minutes or hours. The team was rarely more than Johnson, designer, and project manager until very late in development. As he said, he preferred to work with a one-man office! Our models were accurate to the 25,000th of an inch, and the slightest variation of massing was scrutinized with breathtaking intensity.

He would follow the project to the end, constantly refining the design and adjusting to new budget realities. Looking at one to 50 drawings, he would point out miniscule errors or inaccuracies between intent and reality. Design proportions were defined in such a manner that if we lost finishes and trims, the proportions alone would convey the idea.

He had the intensity of a "Black Hole" to see, understand, and soak up ideas, then spew them back to the architectural and client community. We will miss this part, but we can now also start looking at design that incorporates sensitivity to environmental needs, less energy depleting ideas, and less form for form's sake. I hope. These ideas do not exclude good design, but for too long we have had too much freedom with cheap energy, raw materials, and sprawling planning that will choke our ability to compete with rest of the world.
It was a glorious 20th century run for PJ, Modernism, MoMA, and most of us.

 

Peter Townsend:
On an architectural vision quest in 1968, during my sophomore year at Pratt, three fellow students and I stopped in New Canaan. Peering over a stone wall we saw a large group of people in Mr. Johnson's house. Knowing better, but emboldened by one friend's assertion the house was now a museum, we walked down the driveway and right into the house. With time for only a quick look around we were swept off in a wave of blue hair to the underground painting gallery to join what turned out to be the members of a Connecticut ladies garden club. At that point well-lit, standing out, and trapped underground, we wandered through the art awestruck and overwhelmed, until I felt a strong grip on my arm. Turning, I saw Mr. Johnson standing very close and sternly saying, "OUT!" As he headed me roughly back toward the entrance I was able to blurt out our mission and the name of our professor, Myron Goldfinger. Just as quickly Mr. Johnson said, "STAY!" I visited Mr. Johnson and his grounds several times since and have had the privilege of seeing nearly all of his constructions on site.

 

Anthony Vidler:
I first met Philip Johnson in his office in Seagram, on my first trip to the U.S. as a fourth-year student at Cambridge. I called up from the basement and he was keen to talk as he could not understand why his former friend "Sandy" Wilson (Colin St. John Wilson) had criticized him roundly. He had scandalized all of us "miesians" and "corbusians" by the folly in the lake, thus breaking faith with modernism; but my apprenticeship with Colin Rowe had introduced me to Emil Kaufmann's Architecture in the Age of Reason and the roots of modernism in neo-classical style. Philip was interested, while at the same time informing me that I had no chance of finding a job with my "Beatle" haircut. On finding a job, I called him again, and he thenceforward remembered me alternately as the "kid who knew his Kaufmann" or the "Brit with hair." It was only much later that I discovered his long history with Kaufmann from the early 1940s, and his knowledge of Kaufmann's 1933 Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier, a work that explains a great deal of Johnson's flirtation with classical "style" and his easy slide from classicism to modernism and back. During that first meeting he drew a quick sketch of Mies as two horizontal planes (as in Farnsworth) and Johnson as a thin-line box (Glass House). I wish I had kept it as a first memento of postmodernism.

 

Myles Weintraub, AIA:
One summer Sunday in the mid '50s, my best friend and I hitchhiked from Queens to New Canaan to see the Glass House. We were teenagers and it was either the summer before we entered college or the year after. We didn't write or call in advance, we just showed up on that beautiful sunny morning. Perhaps we thought no one actually lived in the house. What punks.

As we walked down the driveway and turned right, we saw three people sitting around the pool beyond the house. They were in their swimming trunks. One of them stood up, put on a robe, and walked toward us. It was Mr. Johnson. We quickly introduced ourselves and apologized for not having sought permission to visit.

"Well, what am I going to do with you two," he said, in that teasing tone we later learned to identify as his. Of course, we thought he was going to call the police. Instead, he said, "Well, lucky for you, I'm not entertaining any guests – that couple at the pool is my caretaker and his wife – so I may as well show you the house, since that's why you're here."

And that's what he did – with his characteristic charm and generosity – to two raw kids from the city. I remember particularly the fun he took from our shock at realizing that the bathroom walls, inside the cylinder, were covered in squares of leather.

Years later I went back with my architecture school class from Yale for one of the many visits he hosted for architecture students. I was there again in the late '60s as part of a group show he put on of the work of young architects. Also invited were the heads of many city and state agencies who hired architects. It was Philip as matchmaker, a role he relished.

Each time I went back, I reminded him of that first visit. I don't think he remembered it, but I'll never forget it.

 

Stephen Yablon, AIA:
In the early 1990s I was the Project Architect for Gwathmey Siegel's renovation of the AT&T building and its conversion to the Sony Building. Charlie thought it would be a good idea to bring Phillip Johnson to the lobby to explain what changes we planned to make and attend a meeting with Sony USA's Chairman. I had never met Johnson before.

At the building lobby and in the meeting, Mr. Johnson directed many of his comments specifically to me, actively including me in what I thought would be a stratospheric meeting of the titans. It was obvious that he loved speaking with younger people, had enough self-confidence that he did not need to shun those not at his level of fame or accomplishment, and was appreciative of everyone who contributed to a project. I never forgot that.

 

Ivan Zaknic:
In 1986, having just finished editing the volume Philip Johnson / John Burgee Architecture 1979-1985 (Rizzoli, 1985), I was sitting at my table in the back of the Lipstick Building organizing the office archives. Mr. Johnson came by, bent down, and deposited a pair of his shoes in my wastepaper basket. I have kept these shoes to the present day. Although they are my size, I've never dared to put them on. Is there any fellow architect out there able and willing to wear these shoes? "Some cut their heel, and some cut their toe / But (s)he sat by the fire who could wear the shoe." (Cinderella)


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