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Philip Johnson papers, 1908-2002 (bulk 1925-1998)

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Johnson (Philip) papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Philip Johnson is one of the most prominent and outspoken architects of the post-World War II era. During his long career from the 1940s until the present, Johnson has been a major participant in the architectural debate of his time and has contributed to all major architectural movements during those years. He started as a follower of Mies van der Rohe's most austere modernism, broke with this trend to design in a more "humane" modernistic vocabulary, and was one of the leaders of postmodernism during the 1980s. In his 90s Johnson has designed and built structures that show his interest in the deconstructivist idiom.

Born in 1906 in Cleveland, Ohio, Johnson became interested in the critical study of architecture through frequent trips to Europe. In 1930, after receiving a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Harvard University, he went to work for the newly established Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he founded and directed its Department of Architecture, the first museum-affiliated program in the United States devoted to the study of architecture as art. Before returning to Harvard in 1940 to earn an architecture degree, Johnson spent six years as a political radical working for the right-wing publication Social Justice and co-founding the Young Nationalists movement.

As an architect, Johnson played a pivotal role in three international movements: modernism, postmodernism, and deconstructivism. Indeed, the Museum of Modern Art's 1932 landmark exhibition "The International Style", a collaborative effort between Johnson and architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, was the first official American forum to recognize and codify the modernist movement in architecture. Stressing function over form, this then-revolutionary style made famous by such European masters as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier became the new paradigm for American architecture under Johnson's tutelage. Many of Johnson's early works have become exemplars of modernist architecture, particularly Johnson's own Glass House (1949) and the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York (1959).

In 1967, Johnson began a partnership with John Burgee that culminated in the construction of Johnson's most publicly celebrated building after the Glass House: the AT&T Corporate Headquarters in New York (1978). Adorned with nonfunctional design elements, the AT&T building embraced the post-modernist movement in architecture centered around the revival of historic styles.

At the age of 82, Johnson once again changed the dialogue of contemporary architecture with the Museum of Modern Art's 1988 exhibition "Deconstructivist Architecture" (with Mark Wigley). Linking the works of such architects as Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Eisenman to the style of Russian constructivist painters, the exhibition fostered much critical acclaim and critical debate. Johnson continued to further the cause of deconstructivist architecture through the adoption of a new, anti-geometric style of design - a style best exemplified by his Visitors Center in New Canaan, Connecticut.

The first recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Johnson has been recognized not only as one of the most influential architects of his generation but also as one of the most influential teachers of the next generation of architects. He died in 2005.

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