Philip C. Johnson (1906-2005), American architect whose unconventional designs united influences as diverse as the neoclassicism of German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and the modernism of German American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years Johnson was the outstanding advocate in the United States of the starkly geometric, steel-and-glass type of architecture known as the International Style. In his later designs, with his architectural partner John Burgee, Johnson became a leader of the architectural movement known as postmodernism. In contrast to modern architecture’s rejection of decoration, postmodernism embraces the use of archways, gables, and other decorative elements drawn from historical sources (Modern Architecture).
Philip Cortelyou Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1927 he graduated from Harvard University with a degree in philosophy. Almost immediately his interests turned to architecture, and he became recognized as a leading authority on contemporary trends. In 1932 he was appointed chairman of the department of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. While in this post he strove to popularize the new architectural concept of sleek functional design, originally developed in Europe, which he named the International Style. Johnson's book International Style: Architecture Since 1922 (1932), written in collaboration with the American architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, helped introduce the principles of this new approach to architecture to the United States.
In 1940 Johnson left the museum and enrolled again at Harvard. He received an architectural degree in 1943, studying under Walter Gropius, the German-born leader of the modern style. Johnson entered the Army Corps of Engineers after receiving his degree during World War II. In 1946 he resumed his former post at the Museum of Modern Art. Under his direction, which lasted until 1954, museum exhibitions and publications continued to emphasize the International Style. During his years at the museum, he played a major role in modernizing American architecture.
Johnson began designing buildings in 1942. Usually luxurious in scale and materials, his buildings featured an expansive use of interior space, a classical sense of symmetry, and an elegant grace. Johnson’s architecture first attracted public attention in 1949 with the construction of the Glass House, his own residence in New Canaan, Connecticut. A simple cube with all-glass exterior walls and practically no interior walls, the Glass House was greatly influenced by Johnson’s mentor, Mies van der Rohe, whose biography Johnson wrote in 1947. Johnson soon became one of the most frequently-commissioned architects in the world. In New York City he designed landmarks such as the Seagram Building (1958), a glass skyscraper in collaboration with Mies van der Rohe; the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1965); and parts of the Museum of Modern Art, including an outdoor sculpture garden and two new wings built in 1964. At Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, he designed the Kline Science Center (1962).
In 1967 Johnson joined forces with Chicago architect John Burgee. Their many projects have included the Investment Diversified Services (IDS) center (1973) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a complex of four glass buildings surrounding a 1,860-square-meter (20,000-square-foot) mall; and the spectacular Crystal Cathedral (1980) in Garden Grove, California, designed for television evangelist Robert H. Schuller and shaped like an elongated four-point star. The AT&T headquarters (1984, now the Sony Building) in New York City aroused controversy for its use of a broken pediment atop a skyscraper. The pediment is reminiscent of the cabinets made by 18th-century furniture designer Thomas Chippendale, and it led to the skyscraper’s nickname, the Chippendale building. Other postmodern designs by Johnson and Burgee include Pennzoil Place (1976) in Houston, Texas, noteworthy for its graceful stepped gables; PPG Place (1984), the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Pennsylvania, a glass tower inspired by Gothic architecture; and the Transco Tower in Houston (1984, now known as the Williams Tower), which was inspired by art deco skyscrapers.
Johnson received the first Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award, in 1979. In 1989 he retired from Johnson/Burgee Associates but remained a consultant to John Burgee Architects. Johnson continued to design and in 1994 formed a new firm with architect Alan Ritchie. Designs by this firm include an office and retail building (1997) in Berlin, Germany, on the site of Checkpoint Charlie, a former border crossing between East Berlin and West Berlin; and an addition (2001) to the Amon Carter Museum (which Johnson had originally designed in 1967) in Fort Worth, Texas.