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Philip Johnson Dies

Architect Philip Johnson, FAIA, died Tuesday night at age 98.

Johnson, a principal at Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Associates (PJAR) in New York, was widely regarded as one of the pioneers and masters of Modernism. Through his buildings, exhibitions, scholarship, and cultural sway, he became one of the most influential designers of the 20th Century.

The architect, who retired from his practice last fall after more than 60 years of work, had recently undergone heart surgery.

Johnson’s prominent projects include the influential Glass House (1949) in New Canaan, CT, a clear box praised for its elegance and simplicity; the eloquently quiet MOMA sculpture garden (1959) in New York; and the post-modern AT&T Building, with its controversial Chippendale top, also in New York. Notable exhibitions include a 1932 show at the Museum of Modern Art called “Modern Architecture,” which helped firmly lodge the European-based style into the consciousness of the United States. An accompanying book, called “The International Style,” which Johnson wrote with Henry-Russell Hitchcock, further outlined the principles of the developing style.

The architect, born in Cleveland in 1906, was awarded the very first Pritzker Prize in 1979, and won the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1978. He studied under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius at Harvard, and was greatly influenced by the clean forms of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He also served as director of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930’s.


Johnson’s commitment to the simple forms of early Modernism began to change over time, and later he began to take sculptural experiments. He delved in Post-Modernism, and later led shows on deconstructivism. A recent project being developed by the firm for a children’s museum in Guadalajara, Mexico, twists and contorts shapes in ways that might have been unimaginable early in Johnson’s career.

Notes Douglas L Steidl, FAIA, President of the AIA, in a statement, "his work cannot be characterized by a single, consistent style. Instead, he creatively shaped each design anew in response to the dreams of his clients, the cultural influences of the time, and the intrinsic qualities of the site.  He was a visionary, contemporary American architect who did not play by the rules, he made them.”

Johnson was also a mentor, and the unofficial leader of various elite aesthetic circles. “We used to call him the Godfather, because he was not only concerned with his own practice, but he was also concerned with the next generation,” notes Peter Eisenman, FAIA, who says he went to Johnson for his “blessing” before starting a firm.

Johnson’s own firm will continue to operate under his partner of 10 years, Alan Ritchie, who summed up the feelings of many in the design world in a statement: “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Philip Johnson, my partner and friend for over three decades. Philip leaves an unmatched legacy to the world of architecture and design.

“As an icon of twentieth century American architecture his intellect, presence and enormous talent will be missed by those of us who knew him, and by his colleagues throughout the world. He leaves behind a lifetime of accomplishment that very few have achieved. Those that Philip inspired over his 60 years in architectural practice will carry on the legacy of his work.”

Mr. Johnson is survived by his sister, Jeannette Dempsey, and by David Whitney, his partner for over 40 years.

Sam Lubell


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