American Architecture Now: Philip Johnson

American Architecture Now: Philip Johnson


DIAMONDSTEIN: Hello, I’m Barbaralee Diamondstein for
American Architecture Now. Today we’ll be talking to Philip Johnson. Philip Johnson
is recognized by virtually everyone as the Dean of American Architects. His
influence began in the 1930’s when he was the director of the Museum
of Modern Art’s department of architecture since then, his role has been central as
master builder, critic, historian, patron, and even gadfly of contemporary
architecture. A very warm welcome to Philip Johnson. How does it feel to have come from what you yourself have described as the pics bad boy of architecture to its
current most eminent figure? JOHNSON: I’d just like you to repeat that introduction again and
again. I didn’t know I was such a famous and delightful person. But now
that I’m Dean I suppose that means just “old” so it’s alright. DIAMONDSTEIN: Venerated. JOHNSON: Venerated because of old age and — DIAMONDSTEIN: Hardly, because of accomplishment, continuing accomplishment. JOHNSON: Well anyhow, it feels fine. DIAMONDSTEIN: When did you first become a practicing architect, and under what circumstances? JOHNSON: Practicing… I’d practiced architecture long before I was allowed to. Naturally, I couldn’t wait for a little thing like a license because that meant I had to go to school and write theses and draw… I can’t draw today So I started building buildings DIAMONDSTEIN: But then eventually you did go to school — JOHNSON: Yes, they threw me out of New York. Little man came around and tapped me on the shoulder and said that, “You’re gonna have to close this office and leave New York state.” DIAMONDSTEIN: Is that so? Did you practice without a license? JOHNSON: I practiced without a license. DIAMONDSTEIN: And you went all the way to Cambridge? JOHNSON: I went a long way away to New Canaan, Connecticut, where they didn’t have any said silly laws. And went right on building… Until they passed law up there, and then I had to do something. DIAMONDSTEIN: And what did you do? JOHNSON: I went to school. That’s the hardest thing. Don’t ever do that if you don’t have to. And you don’t have to, you know. Because it hurts very much to go to school after 30. I was 34 and the kids around me, my classmates, looked to me all 15 but I supposed they were a little older. DIAMONDSTEIN: Who were your teachers? JOHNSON: A lot of kids younger than I. And some people my own age. Mr. Broyer was the leader. He was the best teacher I ever had. And he was a couple of years older DIAMONDSTEIN: And who was then Dean of the school? JOHNSON: Dean was Dean [name] from Columbia. But the leading man, of course, was Walter Gropius, the leading spirit of the Bauhaus And uh, very strict creator.. Or one of the creators of the International Style DIAMONDSTEIN: Well to whose work did you especially
respond then? By whom were you most influenced? JOHNSON: Well I disliked Mr. Gropius so much that I had no trouble getting impetus from other places. Man influenced me most
but didn’t live there at all was
Mies van der Rohe, my guru who was the head of the
school in Chicago and him I saw all the time… but in the school was only Mr. Broyer DIAMONDSTEIN: Your early influence was as a teacher and a curator. We talked about
that briefly, you said your first show… I think you were referring then to your first show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, that together with Henry Russell
Hitchcock you curated a show entitled “The International Style,” Where did
you ever get that idea?
say we can’t go into the whole history JOHNSON: Well it’s a perfectly natural one that, uh… we can’t go into the history of it tonight but the International
Style was a very severe, a definite movement such as we haven’t seen since
the Gothic. That is the universally accepted, and if you stepped out of it, you stepped out of it at your peril I remember this building that we’re in was
castigated by not being pure enough International Style… by me, actually. But all the buildings that later on became the buildings that we
see all around us are all International Style and so the name stuck because it
was true. I mean it was a discipline of architecture that avoided ornament that
had flat roofs, that had lots of glass and ribbons of glass and stucco or plain
materials and no capitals and naturally, no orders and the Beaux-Arts was
castigated, and we thought we’d save the world. It was almost a moral movement. DIAMONDSTEIN: So in addition to being a discipline of architecture, there was a very profound
philosophy where you really believed that architecture would make a difference? JOHNSON: We
did believe it. [name] once said that people will be better people if they
live behind glass that’s course the day [name] once said that people will be better people if they lived behind glass. That’s of course today an absurdity, we don’t want glass around. But I mean in the 20’s, when the International Style really did its greatest work, in Europe, not here, the rules were very strict and the hopes for
the future were endless. It was the old socialist dream of “everybody, we’re gonna be happy.” Now we know that, perhaps, maybe none of us are gonna be happy and we rather welcome that. We don’t have
these illusions anymore. DIAMONDSTEIN: Or what has replaced the illusions? JOHNSON: A perfectly delightful sense of living in a real world DIAMONDSTEIN: We were talking about your role as a teacher and as a curator. I suspect you really enjoyed those roles
and sometimes I think that you never really abandoned them. JOHNSON: Oh no, I’m still
doing it. I still tell everybody what to do. Just ask me and I’m still
completely cantankerous and I have my favorites, very strong ones, and I’m, I guess,
the most hated architect in America which is a perfectly normal reaction against
anybody that’s too outspoken. DIAMONDSTEIN: Did you ever consider the possibility that you might be the most admired architect in America? JOHNSON: That I know I’m not so that’s
alright. Most of them, well let’s not even names
for that. DIAMONDSTEIN: Well I think as this evolves, if one ever determines such a thing, one’s peers. And there, I guess now three
or four years ago, there was a prize given in architecture that was the most
distinguished prize ever given, and you know who the very first recipient of
that prize was? Very proud of it, the Pritzker award, which
is the nobel prize of architecture that Kevin Roche won it this year, and it is
indeed a great honor and I’m sensible of that. DIAMONDSTEIN: Most architects today reject Mies van der Rohe’s austerity but they seem to rejoice in the underlying classicism
of his work. What do you see as his most lasting
contribution to architecture? JOHNSON: To me, the most underlying quality of his
business classicism. Naturally we see that a lot more now that we’re all
classicists but we slice the butter differently every time and right now
it’s sliced that way. We don’t consider him a austere, monotonous man. We consider
him a reductionist classicist. A contaminated classicist. DIAMONDSTEIN: Tell us please what that means. JOHNSON: Well that’s our present philosophy Mine, anyhow. At least I accept it because it was invented by somebody else. It was Peter Eisenman actually. Contaminated classicism is what Mies did. The Seagram building is as strictly
organized hierarchically classical as any palace in the eighteenth-century. And his very careful balancing of symmetrical parts was almost thrown out of
the canon of the International Style because it was too symmetrical. Our sense of balance in the International Style came from [?] and the Cubist
spatial lapping, whereas Mies’s came from Schinkel, the great Prussian
classicist, and from his own historic sense. Mies was an historian. He and I always spent, whenever we had vacations or time looking at classical architecture. We never bothered with modern. So now we see him as the leader of the almost anti-modern
proto-classical revolution. Some of us! DIAMONDSTEIN: What is most important to you about
his work? JOHNSON: That! It was his sense of organization, of order, of clarity, of
his sense of detail. As he said, “God lies in the details.” I still believe that. A lot of architects just say, “The idea’s the thing!” If you have an idea, that’ll carry it! It won’t. It’s the detail it carries the building, and
he thought that, and it shows in the Seagram building which I watched him
design. I was listed as a co-designer. That isn’t fair. He did it and all the little parts. It’s fun, next time you go by it, to look at the way the little mullion, the thing that holds the windows apart, just see how that’s, if you look up carefully you’ll see how that is sculpted. That was hand-sculpted by Mies van der Rohe himself. The shape of that thing is not simple. It looks simple! DIAMONDSTEIN: It doesn’t look so simple. I notice that you do not take credit as being co-designer
of the building JOHNSON: No. DIAMONDSTEIN: But you do list yourself as the designer of the Four Seasons restaurant. JOHNSON: I did that. He left, he was tired. He said “why should I design restaurants?” I couldn’t agree with him more, but he was
older than I, and I didn’t know enough. Not to leave restaurants strictly alone. Just don’t sign restaurants — it’s too hard. And I spent a long time doing that. DIAMONDSTEIN: Well it’s obviously a place and a space that you enjoy enormously. It’s your lunchtime club! JOHNSON: Yes, I have a stammtisch there and I always eat there, the food’s good. DIAMONDSTEIN: How does the room hold up for you after all these years? JOHNSON: I still like it. I wouldn’t do it that way, it’s too barren and too square, too cubic. But we used enough rich materials. That’s another thing Mies did differently from the other International Style; He wasn’t afraid of using rich materials DIAMONDSTEIN: Why don’t we talk for a moment about the level of design and dialogue? Do you find it more impressive now, than it was at the time that you brought your now legendary International Style show to the Museum of Modern Art? JOHNSON: I don’t think there’s any question in our day There was nobody around that talked about
architecture. i’m in our first show we In our first show, we weren’t reviewed in any magazine and no newspapers would touch us, and there was no discussion set, and there was no shows like this one. nobody like Barbaralee Diamondstein to keep us straight and narrow. DIAMONDSTEIN: How do you think that the public feels about the built
environment today? JOHNSON: I think they hate it cordially — DIAMONDSTEIN: Do you think they notice? JOHNSON: Yes, some subconsciously but most of
them consciously. At least my mail and people that call find enough to scream about, especially when I build something they resent. I noticed they notice those much more than what they might like. DIAMONDSTEIN: Well then you’re saying that the public really cares. JOHNSON: It’s changing. I think, for instance, the example of that is what’s happened to the preservation movement. There was no preservation movement in my day. I marched with six people to try to save the Pennsylvania Station That was only 20 years ago and now think what would happen if anybody dared touch the
Pennsylvania Station I mean it’d be worse than Grand
Central today! DIAMONDSTEIN: You’re noted as a kind of patron of younger architects. You send work their way and you follow their careers closely. And by your own admission
you have your own favorites. JOHNSON: Oh yes and you seem to be interviewing most of them, so I can’t talk about them, it’s too bad. because it would be fun to say
mean things but it’s impossible since I picked them all — DIAMONDSTEIN: Who are some of those favorites? well then Tory it seems to me the most JOHNSON: Well Venturi seems to me the most important architect in the world today You know, to use the word “important,” I don’t care so much for his work as I do for his
thinking. But he revolutionized architecture with his book in 1960. DIAMONDSTEIN: “Complexity and Contradiction”? JOHNSON: That’s right. It’s a very, very seminal book for all of us — architect old and young. And it freed us! It’s like untying all the chains with one great stroke. Then another favorite of mine is, of course, Graves. Was also a classicist, if you will. Michael Graves — DIAMONDSTEIN: Well, we know that you were helpful in getting Michael Graves the commission to do the new Portland
Municipal Building in Oregon. Something that in building, I guess, that
is almost as controversial as your own AT&T building What do you think of the Portland
municipal building now that it is up? JOHNSON: I think he was up against it. It signals the first public building in the after-modern period after International style period. And that’s a very, very important building. But he didn’t have a chance. DIAMONDSTEIN: Why? Was it the architectural community, as well as the other community that was opposed to — JOHNSON: Oh not at all, everybody was opposed to it, except me. But the point is that the program he was given was a squat, cubic building with much too much in it. And a price that you couldn’t build a building for. and he had to sign up that the building
will be built for this much, so there was no chance of using any decent materials. There was no chance of making a decent shaped building. And everything was
jammed in that possibly could. And of course that’s how we won the
prize, because he was the cheapest. DIAMONDSTEIN: And in the end, how do you think it all turned out? JOHNSON: Pretty well. DIAMONDSTEIN: In the light of those limitations? JOHNSON: Yes. But I want people to
realize that when they see it, it’s almost more fair to him to look at his sketches. But that’s alright, he’s building lots of buildings. In the next five years, he’ll be the leading architect I think. DIAMONDSTEIN: There are some other younger architects that are your favorites. Tell us, if you will, what makes each of them important and what you feel you, as an accomplished architect, can learn from them. JOHNSON: Depends upon who’s looking at this broadcast. There are a lot of them, for instance Richard Meier’s entirely different! But I like his work just as much. I mean, the whole range of architecture, From Frank Gehry, another favorite of mine, or Robertson, Eisenman, I mean there’s a whole slew DIAMONDSTEIN: And the slew that you’re describing have very diverse works. So there must be something about each of them that engages you — is it the ideas, is it the detail, is the aspiration? JOHNSON: No. Certainly not the aspirations; the accomplishment. And it’s the shapes that they are able to make. How do you judge any work of art? Why is Mondrian better than anybody that copied him? Because somehow, he had a way with the thickness of a line versus the square of white and the square of red that was balanced correctly
to the eye There’s absolutely no words that can
tell you why Mondrian is better than Diller, or any of the other types. But he is and recognized as such, and he’s paid for as such. The marketplace is not such a bad place after all. Now, these people that I mentioned are not all appreciated. But I think they will be. I’m hoping we’re setting up better standards and we are! I mean this conversation couldn’t be held ten years ago. There wasn’t 5 or 6 architects to pick among that generation. And there weren’t so many wonderful directions! DIAMONDSTEIN: How do you explain the difference? JOHNSON: Well, the freedom that Venturi gave us! You’ll see that now, it’s no crime to copy Corbucci! It’s no crime to enjoy looking at Schinkel! Even in Pittsburgh, at least it’s not particularly a
crime to build a Gothic skyscraper. DIAMONDSTEIN: Which you have done and we’ll talk about it in a little bit. What was your own first architectural endeavor? And who was your patron? JOHNSON: Oh, for oneself, of course. You always have to build for aunt Matilda, if you’re lucky enough — DIAMONDSTEIN: To have an aunt Matilda! JOHNSON: Rich aunt Matilda! The first rule of architecture is to be born rich. Second rule is to, failing that, marry wealthy. Third is to… There’s no third, you gotta do one of those two. So, it’s one of those very difficult professions. And I started building, of course, for my family. I built a barn out in the country. Out in London, Ohio where we had a farm. And you can always build farm buildings just to store machinery in, if nothing else. Very handsome, classical building. DIAMONDSTEIN: And then one of your very first buildings was a building for yourself just about 40 years ago. years ago a half that you did in
Connecticut JOHNSON: Oh that’s right I’d forgotten that. JOHNSON: That’s right, that’s right!and I went straight from
that house i finished it and went off to the work so i didn’t live in a very long what if an architect doesn’t have the
luxury of commissioning oneself then yes be very bright like and Renee or very
patient or a genius Franco dried we don’t have that type James anymore
we’re not in that kind of a . we’re not in what the English call and I really
like . there’s no great accomplish a nice and right nobody would dispute that
nobody disputed at that time and then in the thirties and twenties I mean we
granted these people they’re genius status as you would make langeland
Brunelleschi today I don’t think any of us range up to that scale do you see any incipient architects well
I think well I would name among these that children that I talked about
children at over 50 now as any of them potentials but I don’t see him yet I don’t think anything think of
themselves that way you seem nice was convinced that he was the greatest
architect in the world when he was young and Frank Lloyd Wright never got over
the fact that there were only two architects ever that ever lived Michelangelo himself which he wasn’t at
all a hesitant to tell you and you did not hesitate to tell him at one point
and kids in your career I know how embarrassing that can you tell us about
that yes I told me was the greatest architect
to the 19th century this was way into the twentieth when I said that that was a very unfair and he did a lot
of his best work after that but you see don’t worry i told you before the
international style is a moral fervor movement as well as just an intellectual
one and write didn’t fit and that was we were very mean to him apologize thank you about six or seven years after you
design the house in Connecticut you designed a now-famous house for yourself
in Connecticut as well and that was about nineteen forty eight and nine the
glasshouse class oh that’s right how does that look to you today well it’s marvelous I wouldn’t want to
live anywhere else but I wouldn’t feel like it you would not build that again no no no it isn’t interesting about see
our sense of what’s interesting is influenced began my inventory but it’s
too simple-minded you take the biggest piece of glass you can buy and and then
I we I spent all my time is how do you hold up class rolled up with a piece
that way by that yet or that you buy that yet and that took a month years of
how to do every one of those little details I mean there wasn’t any a broad-brush
interesting shapes like this room for instance that we could we could referred to in those days was
also strict what was the most important aspect of that design for you at the
time that you are creating it were there any elements that are more
significant than others yes the same i think if you have a glass box without
any character I mean without any interesting details that you would enjoy
wandering among that it very damn well better look well placed and so I found
the most glorious I’d Connecticut’s full of them and that I’ve never tired it
every time i get an idea of building on myself to see because there’s only one
good client in the end that’s oneself because you don’t have anybody bothering
you about the budget or are telling you that that that the closet isn’t big
enough that’s the worst thing you can hear from
a client to see because where you want to put add to the closet you can’t stick it out a little further
if you have a no one nothing to balance it on the other side it’s impossible to
build for clients many people I guess they’re under the impression that an
architect comes up with an idea works long hours to execute the design and
presto it gets built you take an idea and no matter how good that idea unless
you’re a philip johnson and IM Pei Kevin Roche you take that idea and translated
into a reality it’s like porcupine making love
difficulty it and i did just occurs to one there’s no what no even work at it
and then the rest of time is just plain sweat hard work there’s no rule there’s no way you can become a good
architect certainly not going to school because we should matter where such a
rich country that we can afford to waste five years of kids times at public
expense training to be architects and of course it’s all waste of time I mean what was the only time that X
well what are the great architects do they just hung out there shaking or they
just went to work for another architect Frank Lloyd Wright everyone to school frank mr. Rowland everyone to school to
call me she never went to school but when you didn’t go to school you in this
I was disbarred and thrown out of the state yes well things change after it be after
license now to be a barber at the license to be an elevator operator you
think that’s a pretty good idea no i said that helped establish
standards or dilute them in the end certainly don’t think it makes any
difference at all you have those pieces of paper i think which where you learn
is after you get out of school we learned the school of hard knocks you
learned by thinking of conception and then try and see if it will be built and
then used you work on the engineering side and you work on the history side
I’m Frances I’m a great is your history our history lover i didn’t never learn
his general had a course in history and just you know just picked it up through
the through the pores of your skin is for you learn what I just never went to
school if they did they were probably ruined I mean that Jasper Johns never went to
school matey’s ridiculous Picasso heavens he
started paint great pictures and here’s a 10 years old motor out his father was
a great teacher of art so that there was something in that environment that from
the very beginning I likes it goes on let’s take the moats I don’t really have
a father to and that is genetically transmitted when you we were talking a
moment ago you made reference to this space and I could not help but think
that a concern of every architect is the initial perception of a space if it is a
room or a building and I wondered if you would tell us what you think about when
you plan that important or influential entrance to anything it is that you
design and how your concerns are different in the design of building and
that of a room room is the opposite of a building is where we always talking our
office of our inside buildings that are outside buildings what is at me well it some of our
buildings are very successful outside without any interiors and some of our
buildings are great rooms but we just let the outside let’s try to be cut tacked onto the
great room the great trick in architecture I don’t think I’ve ever
totally succeeded is the combination but you take something like the Parthenon
that’s an outside building hasn’t any inside you never win set on the other
hand you take some of the cathedrals and Middle Ages tiny wondering any exterior lot of the
english ones are and no no exteriors at all it’s really that incredible gothic
space but don’t forget in the middle ages the outside of the of them were
covered with houses that were glued to them and that wasn’t the point the point
was the great room the pantheon has no outside today which of your buildings
you think comes closest to combining the outside and inside I don’t know I
wouldn’t i’d be and this to say because you see skyscrapers which has been most
of my work the last 10 years 15 years have I don’t have interiors can’t make
architecture out of an elevator except you have managed to do that in
one of your most currently celebrated and controversial buildings and I’m
thinking of the new AT&T building where as i recall not only the monumental
entrance but the lower space doesn’t even have a lobby why did you choose to do that that may
have an interior have you looked into that door I have you consumed at night
there when they leave the work like something that’s going to be a great
emcee in the voting on it but I scan have a goldleaf cross vaulted ceiling on
I’ve seen a photograph that reveals the old statue atop the old a team-building
that will be right underneath that I underneath the gold world as will be the
gold statue from downtown and it’ll stand there and be a symbolic of the
biggest company in the world for quite a while why don’t you tell us
for a moment did you ever expect the public to receive that building the way
they did when it was announced several years ago no it’s always pretty natural we were
given the job of doing the Seagram building of the eighties and since i
worked on this evening building 20 years before we seem like logical choice for
them and we promised them that we said we’re going to get you the most
important building in the city of New York which is only your do is the
biggest company in the world and so we designed it they loved it we started building over some hell
breaks loose hey Louise hates it if a Louise hates the building you’re in deep
trouble simple fortunately that was the goal
relax it but you yourself have referred to as the highboy pediment no I have not I’ve resent that very very much has
nothing to do with the highboy and I resent the fact that we thought we were
building a small building and blowing it up and scale that is a and hoary old
tradition in classical architecture to break impediment and there are many many
ways of breaking it and also the helmets to gauge and the borough cage pediments
were broken twisted bent curve tipped and this was our way of doing it we put
that top on that building so it would call attention to the building and
identify it all the buildings in New York if you look down from the Empire
State are ill illegible I mean they’re just flat things covered with that with
that under them is more equipment are doing you want to
recognize the way you do the great buildings in New York traceability and
the general electric building and all the downtown buildings that are built
with the beautiful top sound more points on the Woolworth tower all buildings
instead of the great . which is the nineties and in the twenties have tops
on them and we said we’re going to give you a top that of course was where we
had problems also even with our clients why don’t we talk about something that
you have done in that building that is either a very fresh or a revisionist
idea and that is instead of overhead fluorescent lighting you plan to rely on
incandescent desk lamps remember disciplines barely happened in response
to what issues did you decide to do that holiness the office chair of the rest
light ceilings even the bad color of fluorescent tubes the the boredom with office world and if you
go in and you put a little chain and if it too much like to push the lamp away
but not enough to bring it a little closer that’s what you do the manager at home from the office
anyhow if you’re taking notes you want money aside your lefty so you
put the lamp on the other side it’s so the original a million what other
innovations have you developed in response to constraints be they
financial or no I best thing is getting rid of the elevators well then how do you get up up and away
and I was good but they’re only for you see there’s some 30 45 elevators in the
building but with only four we didn’t have to make a big Lobby we just have
that one great room and then at the end of that great room are the four doors
into the for shuttle cars we call them to go up to the real lobby which is up
on top of that great big arch that’s why that great big arch is such a great
regard because when you get up to the rule lobby you’re still under the arch itself what
particularly informed your sensibility and the construction of that monumental
the public we had a two bigger building into Titus site there’s no question about that I still
resent the fact that they didn’t buy the land that the IBM is built on but they
didn’t they couldn’t I be I wouldn’t sell it and so we had to take a second
place and rejected our building up with everybody else so we said the best way
then is to give that as much of this ground back to the public as we can so
we took the elevators which frankly take up the whole building in a small
building like that and just lifted the muscle you’ve built a number of
buildings one of the most famous buildings visually that transformed the
skyline of houston i’m thinking of Pennzoil opens august and that sort of
split appearance and currently you have a commission there that will be the
tallest building in Houston’s galleria the transco building and that building
will dominate the city all over again in some ways like the Eiffel Tower in Paris
will you tell us something about that design and how that evolved that’s a
delightful story the this Jerry hines the developer wanted to really make his
mark in his development part that he did and near the near attacks near houston
and if you take a skyscraper and put it in New York you hardly see it but if you
take a 65 story building and put it out in the country yeah that’s what gives it the Eiffel
Tower effect and that’s what we’ve done all the rest abilities are ten stories
you don’t see them now and so this great big things to accept
and it’s a lot of fun was he the patron of the Pennzoil
buildings yes he was the instigator that game such a kinky thought he do it again
and much more important perhaps is the Republic Bank building which is gothic
how important is a patron to an architect and who is the best patron you
ever had Gary Hines should I say that with all my new clients around but they
have something to aspire to now yes that everybody says how to Jerry do
it how did he do it smart mark but patrons are more than half i
would say you cannot architectures much too important to leave the architects
because you see we get fantastic and we get silly ideas and and we aren’t
willing as as artists to care for work and so we build it and that’s a mistake
then you have to cover without your move to another city or something awesome but
if you have a picture and you see he will stop you short say we can’t afford
that and you’ll say then you go home and cry but I’ve heard you describe
architects as the employees of the developers that I did not think was a
very flattering kind of relationship and perhaps you would tell us where you see
that nor a more flattering one maybe whore but I don’t think that’s very nice
word either but we are $MONEY and employs it would be that which we were
because we don’t get paid as well as most employees because they know what
they can get architectural work quite cheaply because we’re so dying to build
it we could we would do it for nothing if we get if we could eat and they don’t
like to have to start to death so as an employee where another one of the lower
echelon you’ve said however that there are Commission’s that an architect can
and should refuse yes I refuse in parts but then why did
you choose to do that because I didn’t want to hurt that would use great
building to me a great architecture is something that has to be preserved at
all costs and this didn’t seem to be much cost they’re very rich people that
own that church and they owe it to New York to keep a day for two reasons and
open space and I think would use it very great
architects in a little i’m recognized now but you wait five years and I
wouldn’t to overshadow it or tear apart of it down I refuse the most still more important
at the the tower which think its done anyhow the tower over the Grand Central that was my first statement of principle because that would’ve hurt the grand
central station said that you do not know of any great . in architecture that
paid no attention to details and earlier you said you still believe that God was
in the details to what details should the architect be most attentive today
that changes with the lid . in the United States international style the
detail was how do you go around the window frame will go around evenly or
you just buy one off the shelf where the companies do the detailing and it’s all
awkward be with the everything in the detail that means venturo pay most
attention to where the frames of the windows and the frames of the spandrels
and the frames of the doors and the corner least was a bear on corners with
you cause she learned from single and Anna Corbin she had a different set but
today I don’t worry about Windows details so much I worry much more about
the well my latest building i’m worrying about the relation of a circle in this
kind of a cylinder and I rectangular thing when when you pump two shapes and
what happens when one is taller than the it leaves a scar up in the sky in the
round building see that’s the kind of thing and how ru
result that I leave the scar make it a different material the scar above the
building that I cutoff is mirror glass its amerigas slice in a grand ability
it’s a new attempt at skyscraper design it’s a very proud of it it’s a village
concept that is there six buildings all different acts and the two kinds round
ones and rectangular ones and they bump together making only two buildings with
a garden in between they go around the edge of the site in Boston the site’s
aren’t like New York downtown it’s a medieval patterns like that so we just
followed them around with these six buildings all bumping it fun and tallest
is the tallest billion in boston college that I think it’s as tall as that that
famous last one hancock anka but the restaurant are
shorter but they all the lower one leaves a market in the dollar one who is
commission that village incredible developer from Boston know from
Pittsburgh human company in fact in Pittsburgh you are building a
structure that is in some ways much like ATT in New York in its proportion its
scale and its use of materials can you describe that building you mean the PPG boom this is about the
opposite of a tease is a classical building and it is Bill granite with the
windows in it PPG is all build a glass as you can
imagine why is the Pittsburgh played last company so the entire building is
is glass but the details are gothic I mean as little-little spiders on
delicious little four-corner spires this has peaks like pigeons house of
parliament you know are any any English church you’ve designed buildings and glass
before in fact one of them is longer and wider and higher than Notre Dom the
world’s first drive in church that you did in garden grove california in a
building that is called the crystal cathedral the request of the reverend dr
robert schuller to you was to tie the religious experience to nature how did
you manage to do that or protest so we designed a perfectly sensible church and
all the nice roof and solid walls with nice mysterious feeling where you feel
i’m now in church and I’m gonna when he said I wanted all glass I said dr. Shirley you certainly don’t
want to sit here and look at all the parked cars because he had to have an
opening to address the people sitting in their cars and he said yes what is wrong
with cars you live in your car all day long he was ashamed of it is God not in
the car and it’s a doctor alleyway a different way of looking at religion on
the way I look at it in the Gothic cathedral well how do you think of this
type of building is a place of worship is contrasted to more traditional forms well I’m surprised your works
marvelously it’s a very religious light because we used in the very almost
opaque glass it’s all like working underwater you’ve been underwater long
enough to know that lovely feeling you know not the type that keen on that well go
snorkeling so I’ve done that oh well you know that beautiful light
yeah that’s delight in this church c and then it’s kind of like that you do norco oh no I never been underwater
hasn’t how did you manage to create that well I said to myself we must look like
this underwater and judgin by Cousteau’s pictures it does look like that Jack use
your imagination a little bit no I would never go near water but what
this does you see is this sparkle with these little white line the and little a
great big things but there’s so many up and that’s so far away that they look
very small and you look off in one of those corners and it said it’s a long
way away and it does work religiously you ever set out to design a building in
a particular style yes I designed in Miami group but civic
group which is which open next spring this is a deliberately throwing the
cultural center in miami and that is right in the middle of the city and we
decided to build a little acropolis square heavily in this one square
Hispanic heavily influenced the heck is was not spanish as much as it is Tuscan
i guess but you get enough pictures and that’s enough testing farmhouses and put enough arches and so
it looks like a carico they tell me and I don’t know maybe that would hope that
the curriculum is a much-maligned much undervalued influence and architects had
more influence on architects in pocasset but it isn’t counted but it should be
any obviously I think that recent exhibition of his in that institution
with which you’ve been involved for more than 20 many years will change that
perception but the no i don’t think so i think architects will go wherever they
want and I think a lot of more than go to Kira cold and admitted so much of
your life has been involved with the visual arts and the design of museums as
well I wonder if you would talk for a moment about one of your generous acts
and that is as a member of the board of trustees of the museum of modern art you
served on the architecture committee that Commission another architect to
design the new museum tower and in addition to approving the work of
another architect you sacrificed the building that you would code designed in
an earlier . sounds are such a good story well it’s true how do you feel about
that building now that its nearing completion was very nice i’m gonna lose
there are you going to move to that from yes because I can see several other
buildings i like to look at like 18 yeah huh it’s right on your horizon don’t see the
garden right at the garden we have you die or yeah I which I design i can see
this even building had something to do with and then the AT&T stands right on me so I decided that was a good place
to live no i didn’t i got fired that’s why
didn’t people that building i want to build it how did you get fired it’s very
difficult but I managed how did you do that weren’t you the likely choice i thought
so they said they wanted to go out i don’t blame they want to go outside the
board of trustees get a objective they were several other architects on the
word of your eyes they’re really there are still several other architects on
the board know what that was that was a lot of fun working museum all those
years but of course i miss outfit bar so much who start me off in life that it’s
all different now how important in fact is it has your
involvement with artists been during the course of your own career not only for
your pleasure but your work as an architect that’s a very good question i don’t
learn anything from the on market from the young artists we’re just friends
because I collect their work I like to look at them on the wall but i don’t i
don’t learn from them i think most have learned from mondrian and carrico you
learn from younger architects oh yes I learned especially from venturi from
meijer from Stern from Graves from Iseman recently you’ve changed your
relationship to your firm johnsonburg II and you have become a consultant when
one hears and reads about all of the assignments and commissions that you’re
involved in I begin to wonder if there’s really a
difference enroll or merely in Title I think you’re mean I say it’s just things
title my partner says that eventually and indeed true eventually it’ll be in
fact but nothing has changed but he’s guided
in a jet I did it to help him there’s no point at
all in a middle-aged man that does have to work always going to Johnson’s AT&T
building Johnson’s transferability just isn’t fair i couldn’t get the jobs i
couldn’t carry them out I couldn’t design without sitting down
with him on every single detail and I’m well known and John Ruggie isn’t so now
John McGee is beginning to get some guy lines without my name on it see which is
good present in a few years we not specify when you have a starting line I think every older architecture do that
what you think of is your greatest contribution is that a particular
building or an idea or a theory or maybe even an attitude infuriates me to
believe it but probably my influences that I talk so much and that I favor the
young and that and naturally they reciprocate by thinking I must be good
or I wouldn’t favor them see so i get from these a five or six actix that I
like a lot of mutual admiration society deal so if they’re going to be good
architects and my reputation is perfectly safe because I mean good
architects will say I’m good and here i am most desirous in this
world of being known as a great architect and skit i’m going to be known
as the great influence of the eighties or seventies in in helping a whole slew
of like what what you would like to best be
known for from my building naturally and are there any that you would cite
especially well the glass house i guess i can’t help being known for and now
it’s always the next one boston or even what’s coming up from
time square what is coming up in Times Square can you tell us briefly Times
Square’s in a very bad shape what we’re doing is building for
buildings more or less the same i sort of a rockefeller center there for that
part of town only somewhat larger some four million square feet we’re putting up there in and that
should be a new center for New York if you had unlimited time and funds and
assistance on what would you focus is there a particular building that you
haven’t built yet either a building Titus is building an item that I’m hope
to get the job of is in architectural school so i SAT right down and designed
it and I guess we’re going to have it but I mean something like that I’d like
to do a museum they haven’t asked me to do is in for 20 years everybody else’s
building museum are there any more museums that are
unbuilt seems to be everyday look at meijer everybody’s building 1 i’d like
to do a house really why wouldn’t have time but i mean
i would like to but you do it fast it would have to be in the range of 8 10
million dollars a little house the bad would be quite small

26 thoughts on “American Architecture Now: Philip Johnson

  1. askmum; off course it is!!!!!!, human need is the foundation of every design, research, investigation, etc. off all ages in history.

    you're not writing contradictory statements, you're actually exposing remarkable ideas.

  2. This man makes me want to be an architect sooo bad. It's too bad college keeps fucking me up the ass and is preventing me from following that dream.

  3. @DukeLibDigitalColl

    I admired Philip Johnson for many things among them, allowing his designs to evolve over the decades! To have begun such a brilliant career as a protégé of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the Bauhaus' "International Style" and end up the darling of the "Post Modern" devotees is remarkable, not to mention having headed the MOMA in New York City for years! But I am most proud of the fact that he was a completely "out" queer(LGBT/gay) person! Awsome!
    Blaine

  4. Does anyone else love that this man studied Philosophy and English as an Undergraduate? I grew up with someone, someone I don't particularly like, though do respect his talent and his intelligence – people may recall the New Yorker Magazine piece on Eric Owen Moss: His Patron states that upon arriving at Moss's Office to find him reading the collected poetry of Eliot cemented his choice of Moss. A catalog of knowledge is perhaps the most invaluable thing around.

  5. If anyone can point me to a university that actually teaches architecture now I would go. Even at my age. So far, I cannot find one.

  6. what a privilege to be in the presence of this man! He comes across as a humble person, able to talk honestly about his life and designs.

  7. The AT&T building discussed here was completed in 1984. Now called the Sony building. Located in Manhattan at 550 Madison Avenue.

  8. "I can't draw" That makes me so happy. I want to be an architect but still my drawing is the worst among other classmates

  9. ^_^my dream being an architect is coming true though I wished I could go to the us and study there but that didn't happened 🙁 my curses will start in a month I'm very excited .my greetings from Iraq

  10. I'm crazily in love with his Pittsburgh PPG Place!!!!! Philip Johnson is one of the best of the best men to have ever lived.

  11. Sad. Petulant attitude to critics & public really comes through. To say that making a good interior and interior is some kind of lofty aspiration is tantamount to admission of failure on behalf of the whole modernist establishment.

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