PHILIP JOHNSON by Franz Schulze


Life and Work
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 Spry and readable, this first major Johnson biography delivers the goods on the puckish 87-year-old godfather of American architecture. Although Johnson granted architectural historian Schulze (Mies van der Rohe, not reviewed) extensive interviews, he demanded no editorial control over the project. Consequently, the portrait that emerges is fresh, candid, and relatively free of flattery. Schulze tells how Johnson, born to a wealthy Ohio family, learned early how to ply privilege into power (a gift of stock from his father made him a millionaire by the time he graduated Harvard). Johnson's ``inglorious detour''--his 1930s travels to Germany and dabblings in fascist and Nazi ideologies--are described in detail for the first time. Back stateside, an unrepentant Johnson is shown supporting Father Charles E. Coughlin, as well as forging and deepening influential bonds with Museum of Modern Art director Alfred Barr, author Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It wasn't until 1945, though, that the still- unlicensed Johnson opened his architectural practice. A quick tour of his eclectic output starts with Johnson's own New Canaan, Conn., home, the Glass House of 194849, a homage to Mies van der Rohe, with whom he would later co-design New York's influential Seagram Building. Schulze analyzes Johnson's schemes for Houston's Pennzoil Plaza, California evangelist Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, and New York's Chippendale-topped AT&T headquarters as products of brilliantly dandyish whim and historical pastiche. A master at self-positioning, Johnson is seen in the 1970s and 1980s gravitating away from modernism to a new generation of postmodernists and deconstructivists--notably, Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, Frank Gehry, and Peter Eisenman. Throughout, Schulze pays ample attention to the architect's personal life, including his relentless social hobnobbing and extended romantic relationships with a series of distinctive men, such as artist David Grainger Whitney. An expansive view of Johnson's prickly intellect, ambition, and shifting aesthetic core. (125 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1994
ISBN: 0-394-57204-1
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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