Philip Cortelyou Johnson

Johnson, Philip Cortelyou, 1906–2005, American architect, museum curator, and historian, b. Cleveland, grad. Harvard Univ. (B.A., 1927). One of the first Americans to study modern European architecture, Johnson wrote (with H.-R. Hitchcock) The International Style: Architecture since 1922 (1932), in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. He became an important American advocate of the new architecture as chairman of the museum's department of architecture (1932–34; 1945–54).

Johnson did not become a working architect until he was in his 30s, receiving his professional degree from Harvard in 1943 and founding his own firm in 1953. A landmark of modern American domestic architecture, Johnson's austerely beautiful glass-walled house in New Canaan, Conn. (1949), reveals the influence of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Johnson wrote a study of Mies in 1947 and collaborated with him on the Seagram Building in New York City (1956–58), now universally viewed as a modern classic. Two other important Manhattan commissions from his earlier years are the Rockefeller Guest House (1950) and the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964; now the David H. Koch Theater), the latter designed in the more decorative, rather neoclassical mode he favored in the 1960s.

Johnson had a successful partnership with John Burgee from 1967 to 1991. The two collaborated on such structures as the addition to the Boston Public Library (1973), Pennzoil Place in Houston, Tex. (1976), with its two trapezoidal towers, the huge Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. (1980), and skyscrapers in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas. In 1979 he was the first architect to be awarded the pretigious Pritzker Prize.

A latent historicism that had characterized many of Johnson's buildings in midcareer came to the fore in his unabashedly neo-Georgian design (featuring a "Chippendale" broken-pediment top) for the AT&T headquarters in New York City (1978–84, now the Sony Building); the controversy it engendered was a key factor in bringing the postmodern architectural debate into the public forum. Thereafter, Johnson, who formed his own firm in 1992, indulged in an eclectic variety of revival modes and more fragmented, deconstructivist styles. One of his most interesting late structures is the Chrysler Center (2001), a three-story retail pavilion in midtown Manhattan comprised of intersecting pyramids inspired by the tower of the Chrysler Building.

See critical biography by F. Schulze (1994); catalog raisonné, The Architecture of Philip Johnson (2002), ed. by H. Lewis and S. Fox; H. Lewis and J. O'Connor, Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words (1994); studies by J. M. Jacobus, Jr. (1962), C. Noble (1972), N. Miller (1980), D. Whitney and J. Kipnis, ed. (1993), P. Blake (1996), J. Kipnis (1996), and S. Jenkins and D. Mohney (2001).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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