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Discover what made the future: Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson would become known as: “The man in the Glass House.”

Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio and came from quite an accomplished and pioneering family. He studied Greek, philosophy, philology and history at Harvard. He became interested in Gothic architecture during European trips and in 1928 he met the architect who would have the biggest impact on his life, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

He became the curator for architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) where he arranged for Gropius and le Corbusier to visit and even arranged the first American commission for Mies van der Rohe. In 1932 he put on the first exhibition for modern architecture at the MoMA which, coupled with the International Style book written with Alfred H. Barr, effectively introduced the American public to modern architecture.

Johnson’s defining design came in 1949 with the design of the Glass House. He used industrial materials, glass and steel, to build a 56×32 ft glass rectangle. The space is entirely open except for low cabinets and a single floor to ceiling brick structure for the bathroom. David Whitney, Johnson’s partner, helped with the landscaping (clean and crisp) and the art collection. Johnson stayed in this house for nearly 60 years and loved the feeling that the house evoked, namely, the feeling of terror in severe storms. The Glass House was stated as one of the greatest residential structures of the 20th century by the New York Times.

The house was very obviously influenced by Mies van der Rohe and Johnson said of this: ”I got everything from someone. Nobody can be original. As Mies van der Rohe said, ‘I don’t want to be original. I want to be good.'”

For his work in modern and postmodern architecture, Johnson received the first Pritzker Architecture Prize and also a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects.

David Bowie even mentions Johnson in his song “Thru These Architect’s Eyes”.

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