Johnson, Philip

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

The American architect Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 8, 1906. He attended Harvard University, where he studied Greek and philosophy. After graduating in 1927, he became increasingly interested in architecture and architectural history. But it was not until 1939 that he returned to Harvard to pursue a career in architecture.

Johnson's special interest as an architect was in linking interior and exterior spaces and in accenting the approach to a building. His first major construction was his own home, called the Glass House, built in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1949. The building is a technical triumph. It consists of a single room with all-glass walls suspended from a slender steel frame. Its simple geometric lines and use of glass and steel materials reveal the influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies van der Rohe was a leader of the style of modern architecture called the international style.

Johnson worked with Mies on the design of New York City's Seagram Building (1958). Mies's influence is evident in the steel beams and glass of the exterior. The building's elegant interior, however, is Johnson's own design. Among Johnson's later works is the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964). It includes an auditorium that seats more than 2,700 people.

In the 1970's, Johnson moved away from the utter simplicity of the international style. He began to add traditional architectural elements to his designs. Perhaps the best-known example is his American Telephone and Telegraph Company Building in New York City (1984). It is often called the Chippendale Building because its rooftop resembles the broken triangle motif that is characteristic of Chippendale furniture. This building design helped define the architectural movement that came to be called postmodernism.

Johnson died at his home in New Canaan on January 25, 2005.

Howard E. Wooden
Director Emeritus
The Wichita Art Museum

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