Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson played a decisive role in designing American architecture in the 20th Century. Through his designs, writings and teaching, he helped to define the theoretical discourse and the built form taken by architecture of our country for more than half a century. Mr. Johnson pioneered and championed the two architectural movements that have most affected the urban landscape during the last sixty years:  the “International Style” and “Postmodernism”, and with it, the reintroduction of the use of historic styles in contemporary design. During the Great Depression, Johnson resigned his post at MoMA to try his hand at journalism and agrarian populist politics. His enthusiasm centered on the critique of the liberal welfare state, whose “failure” seemed to be much in evidence during the 1930s. As a correspondent, Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. The invasion proved the breaking point in Johnson’s interest in journalism or politics – he returned to enlist in the US Army. After a couple of self-admittedly undistinguished years in uniform, Johnson returned to the Harvard Graduate School of Design to finally pursue his ultimate career of architect. As founder and director of the Department of Architecture of the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Johnson’s efforts defined an architecture style practiced by such European masters as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, introducing a generation of American architects to this revolutionary approach to design. In 1930, he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and later (1978), as a trustee, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize, in 1979. From 1967 to 1991, Johnson collaborated with John Burgee. This was by far Johnson’s most productive period — certainly by the measure of scale — he became known at this time as builder of iconic office towers, including Minneapolis’ IDS Tower. That building’s distinctive stepbacks (called “zogs” by the architect) created an appearance that has since become one of Minneapolis’s trademarks and the crown jewel of its skyline. In 1980, the Crystal Cathedral was completed for Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s famed megachurch, which became a Southern California landmark. Philip Johnson is mentioned in the song “Thru These Architect’s Eyes” on the album Outside (1995) by David Bowie. Mr. Johnson passed away in 2005 while staying at his own creation, The Glass House.

Minneapolis DID