Philip Johnson Biography

Philip Johnson (1906--2005) played a decisive role in defining American architecture in the twentieth century. He pioneered and championed the two architectural movements that have most affected the urban landscape during the last sixty years: the international style and postmodernism, or the reintroduction of the use of historic styles in contemporary architectural design. The former was advanced by Johnson and the late Henry-Russell Hitchcock in the 1930s, and the latter through the 1978 unveiling of the design Johnson created for the AT&T Corporate Headquarters (now the Sony Plaza Building) in New York.

As founder and director of the Department of Architecture of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Johnson defined an architectural style practiced by such European masters as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, introducing a generation of American architects to this then-revolutionary approach to design. Characterized by the straightforward use of modern materials such as glass and steel, and emphasizing function and structure over ornamental decoration, the international style became the guiding spirit of American city skylines for fifty years and continues to heavily influence contemporary designs. In addition to advocating the practice and benefits of the International Style, Johnson created two of its most important monuments: his own Glass House in 1949 and the Seagram Building in 1958 with Mies van der Rohe.

Johnson’s design for the AT&T Corporate Headquarters building in New York (1984), with its stone cladding and identifying broken pediment, changed the dialogue of contemporary architecture as dramatically as the international style had fifty years before. It was the first major built structure that revived the use of historic style.

The Amon Carter Museum, which opened in 1961, is a notable example of the international style. Johnson created a simple, elegant design that combined the warmth and richness of bronze with the creamy, intricately patterned surface of native Texas shellstone. His design was inspired by the Renaissance-style loggia---a covered, open gallery that looks out over an open court. Accordingly, the museum’s east façade faces a terraced, grassy plaza surrounded by a walk.

Although the museum was initially conceived as a small memorial structure, its collections grew rapidly, and the institution soon required additional space. A small expansion was added to the building in 1964, and another in 1977. However, these additions did not keep pace with the growth of the Amon Carter Museum’s collections and programs. On November 17, 1998, the Carter announced plans to expand the museum to provide three times the existing space for the display of art. Johnson, now with his firm Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects (formed in 1994), would again spearhead the design, making the building as a whole a singular example of his work---a project he called "the building of my career." For the first time in its history, the museum closed to the public for an extended period in August 1999, and for two years Johnson’s design was implemented. While the 1961 building was retained and refurbished, the early additions were removed, and in their place a vastly expanded structure was erected. The overall size of the museum increased by nearly 50,000 square feet. It reopened to the public on October 21, 2001.

In addition to the Carter, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects projects include the Cathedral of Hope in Texas; a mixed-use office and retail building at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany; the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City; a chapel for the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas; and four apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Johnson, a fellow of both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Institute of Arts and Letters, was the first recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize for a distinguished career in architecture. Other lifetime achievement awards include the Gold Medal from the AIA and the Bronze Medallion of the City of New York. He was also honored for many individual designs, including the Silver Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York for the Glass House and a Progressive Architecture Design Award for the Kline Science Center at Yale University. He died January 25, 2005, at 98 years of age.