Architect Philip Johnson Dies at 98

ByABC News
January 26, 2005, 12:26 PM

Jan. 26, 2005 — -- Architect Philip Johnson, who is credited with bringing some of the ideas of European modern design to the United States and transforming them into a uniquely American form, has died at his home in New Canaan, Conn. He was 98.

Among his most famous designs are the Glass House, his own home in New Canaan, a glass building with an exposed steel frame; New York's Seagram Building, which he designed in collaboration with Mies van der Rohe; and the elliptical shaped 53rd at Third, also known as the Lipstick Building, in New York City.

"The practice of architecture is the most delightful of all pursuits. Also, next to agriculture, it is the most necessary to man. One must eat, one must have shelter," Johnson said in his acceptance speech for the Pritzker Prize, which is often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. Johnson was the first recipient of the prize when it was created in 1979.

"Next to religious worship itself, it is the spiritual handmaiden of our deepest convictions," he said. "Who among us, I would ask, does not feel more religious after experiencing Chartres Cathedral, the Friday Mosque in Isfahan, or Ryoanji Garden in Kyoto? Even more important than painting and sculpture, it is the primary art of our or any other culture."

Born in Cleveland in 1906, Johnson began his career as a critic and curator who championed such architects already well known in Europe as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and van der Rohe, whose minimalist style he encouraged American architects to follow.

He received a bachelor's degree in architectural history from Harvard University in 1930 and went to work as the director of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

His first show, "The International Style: Architecture 1922-1932," opened Americans' eyes to the design innovations of Bauhaus and other modernist European styles.

In 1940, he returned to Harvard, where he studied under Marcel Breuer. After completing his studies, Johnson put his hand to designing buildings himself, putting into practice the minimalist aesthetic he had preached as a critic.

After becoming the leading American practitioner of the minimalist style, he turned away from the glass tower mode that he had helped to make ubiquitous in New York City and other major cities across the country.

By the 1950s, though, Johnson was already revising his earlier views, and his change of direction culminated in 1984 with the building that may be the most controversial of his career -- the AT&T headquarters in New York with its fanciful "Chippendale" top and 90-foot entryway arch.

He and John Burgee formed a partnership from 1967 to 1987, designing such high-rise projects such as International Place in Boston; Tycon Towers in Vienna, Va.; Momentum Place in Dallas; NCNB Center in Houston; PPG Place in Pittsburgh; 101 California in San Francisco; and United Bank Center Tower in Denver.

Among the firm's other projects were the National Center for Performing Arts in Bombay, India, and the Crystal Cathedral in California.