PHILIP JOHNSON: Writings by Philip Johnson
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PHILIP JOHNSON: Writings

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The news-making designer of the Glass House (1950) and the Pennzoil split-skyscraper (1976) was a historian before he was an architect; but since The International Style, written with Henry-Russell Hitchcock in 1932, he has had his iconoclastic say only in articles and talks. This collection, then, is an event--though a curious, Alice-in-Wonderland affair it is. The two editors, Peter Eisenman and Robert Stern, found themselves in ""unresolvable opposition"" on the selection and arrangement of materials, so Eisenman wrote an Introduction, referring to his choices (many of which, to be fair, are included), in which he claims that the plain-spoken Johnson meant the opposite of most of what he said; and Stern wrote the Commentary that precedes his choices and, in many cases, rebuts them. Fortunate the reader who skips both exegetes and takes Johnson full length and full strength. From the early polemics for the bare-boned International Style to the final brief for historically-minded eclecticism (""there are problems today that simplicity doesn't solve""), he shifts ground repeatedly, often prophetically, without altering his allegiance to beauty or disguising his love of elegance. As the austere Mies' most illustrious disciple, he is also his most acute critic (insufficient, now, ""just to see buildings well related in blocks""); Frank Lloyd Wright's announced enemy, he brilliantly recreates the progressions of spatial experiences--or ""processional,"" as he would call it--of the approach to Taliesin West. Best perhaps is his appreciation of the whole, inimical output of Le Corbusier: the cubist ""boxes"" (""paintings translated into three dimensions""); the play of roof-playground shapes atop the allegedly unlivable Marseille apartments; and raw, sculptural Ronchamp--the technology lacking, ""built any old how."" For Johnson, like Picasso (or Picasso/Malraux), his own work, his contemporaries', and his predecessors' belong to a single seamless world of expressive invention.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press