Devin Trakney 12/14/2017 Philip Johnson Philip Johnson was

Devin Trakney

12/14/2017

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Philip Johnson

Philip
Johnson was an American architect
best known for his works of modern architecture, specifically
the Glass House on the Johnson estate in New Canaan, Connecticut.
He is also well known for his works in postmodern architecture,
constructivism and deconstructivism. His architectural style began with the
design of the Glass House in 1949, as
time progressed so did his tastes in architecture and a large shift can be seen
in his later works both through writing and his architecture. Peter Eisenman
describes him by saying “His essays, while admittedly are not of the
belles-lettres tradition, nevertheless possess wit, charm, and devilish
insight.”1 I understand Johnson’s
writing as a means of continuous battle where beauty triumphs the idea. He
tries to separate feeling from ideas, and Johnson says, “My words are my ideas,
and art is my feeling”2. This paper strives toward understanding how Johnson’s
architecture changed over time as his career progressed in hopes of better
understanding the similarities and differences in the phases of his life. To
gather a better understanding of what exactly caused Johnson to change abruptly
in his career; I will examine the property known as Johnson Estate, and discuss the plethora of buildings on the
entirety of the property breaking it into their respective modernist styles,
and the thought that went into their designs. Finally transitioning into my
explanation and understanding for the multiple shifts in his career toward a
series of new types of architecture.

According
to Alexandria Lange Johnson’s career began with “The Glass House and The Brick
House, about 50 feet long and finished within months of each other in 1949 on a
five­-acre plot, with a 90-foot-wide grassy court separating them.”3. The Glass House is a part
of an entity known as the Johnson
Property, though the reality is that it is not just one house. It is an
entire property that Johnson built for himself over the span of his life. He
referred to the Glass House site as his “fifty-year diary.”4 The property began with schematic design of the Glass House in
1945 and in 1946 both the Glass House and the Brick House are completed on a
5-acre lot in New Canaan, Connecticut. These two were the originals and their
styles vary, yet still fall under what Johnson refers to as “International
Style”5, though the entire
property had its own individual aesthetic and separate individual functions.

Lange
explain that the Brick House “from the outside is plain and it doesn’t fit well
with the people­-in­-glass-­houses narrative — ­but obviously as most of us
know Johnson always knew it would be impossible to live entirely in the open,
so he built a place to get some privacy.” 6 The Glass House was
designed with areas for dining, living and sleeping. The building Alexandria
says was “loosely divided by low cabinetry and a brick cylinder holding the
chimney and bathroom.”7 Though it functioned more
as a living space, an occasional office for Johnson and a place to throw
parties.

In
his earlier designs Johnson decided that his earlier estates designs
contradicted its original intended purpose, forcing him to reconsider his
techniques, and leading to the remodeling of his Brick House nearly ten years
later.to make it more habitable for its guests.  The Brick House was originally divided into
three rooms with actual walls. In Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses Alexandria
Lange explains that, “The Brick house was
intended for guests, but Johnson soon realized the problem with a guest house
is you wind up with overnight guests; besides, the sun blasted into the Glass
House at sunrise.”8
The obvious environmental and everyday functions soon began to define how
Johnson would use these spaces he created. Lange says, “It was intended for
guests, but Johnson soon realized the problem with a guest house is you wind up
with overnight guests; besides, the sun blasted into the Glass House at
sunrise.”9 To solve this issue in
1953, he remodeled the Brick House, as Lange says “making his first break with
modernism by creating a luxurious, cocoon­like master bedroom, with a vaulted
ceiling and Fortuny-­covered walls and plush carpet, as well as a reading room
with floor-to-­ceiling bookshelves.”10 This differed from the
Glass House and the original Brick House because it took on a post-modernist
approach, and was repurposed from being 3 equal guest rooms into what Johnson
used as his new bedroom, and reading room. The Glass House was still used as
the glass pavilion upon which one can experience the entire landscape of the
estate.

As
his career grew so did his estate, growing from a mere two buildings to roughly
13 completed structures all varying in architectural styles. The following
eleven buildings were built spread out, both by time and in distance; starting
with post modernistic designs with the Pavilion in 1962, the Painting Gallery
in 1965, and the Sculpture Gallery in 1970. Finally, after another ten years these
buildings all took on forms more closely associated with deconstructivism
starting with the Library Study in 1980, the Ghost House in 1984, Lincoln
Kiersten Tower in 1985 and Da Monsta in 1995.

By
Johnson’s later career he refined and developed a more concrete understanding
about what he wanted to accomplish on the Johnson
Property. He was able to accomplish an understanding for art, that created blurred
lines on his buildings. He used modern art and architecture to engage without erasing
the creative tension that is created when both art and architecture comes
together. This tension can be seen all throughout his estate. His use of
contemporary art also contrasted with the structures and orchestrated the
movement of his visitors.

In
the later part of Johnson’s life, he began to work and design in a style that he
defined as “deconstructive architecture” meaning that his buildings on the
estate took on a form of fragmentation within the construction of the
buildings. Deconstructivist Architecture, a book written by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, discusses
Johnson’s changing style in the later part of his life. Deconstructive
architecture is described by Johnson as what he calls the “structured warp.”11 Meaning
that the architectural direction used warped, and torqued forms to create the
skin or envelope of the building. It is far from the rectilinear shapes of the
International Style that can be seen in Johnson’s earlier works, especially
that of the brick house and Glass house of nearly 30 years prior in his career.
This style can specifically be seen through Da Monsta one of his latest additions to the estate, a red and
black fenced structure. And unlike in his earlier works, which possessed much
more geometric and linear spaces divided using traditional walls and
purposefully place furniture like in the Glass House and Brick House; these
later buildings differed from the earlier ones because Johnson began to
abstract his visitor’s experiences through their relationship with the
deconstructed walls, floors, and ceilings. Da Monsta is the closest we have in
understanding his views on form and structure and their relationship on the
experience of the user.

So,
what exactly caused Johnson to switch his style throughout his career. Was he a
“whore” changing style to whatever was “en vogue”?12 Or had experience and
knowledge led him to open his eyes to a wider variety of design styles. In Philip Johnson and His Mischief,
Christian Bjone explains the “outright thievery that has become accepted as
part of postmodern approaches to creativity…. and it accomplishes this while
examining what one would presume to be the most disciplined and conservative
corner of the arts— architecture.”13 Bjone compares Johnson to
such visual artists as Andy Warhol and Richard Prince to illuminate the way
that Johnson came to “borrow” designs from other architects and copy
their features into his own buildings. A key idea that Bjone introduces is the
“super hybrid” or mash-up, a compression of different influences and
styles within the space of one structure. This is extremely important because
as Johnson grew in his career his style wasn’t simply defined as one but is a
mash of many pieces taken from architects of his time. He used things like post
modernism, deconstructionism and appropriation to design, build, and define his
buildings. To put it simply Johnson was a man of great wisdom and vision, and
understood that like people architecture much learn to adapt too. I think that therefore
he is coined himself as a “whore”, because he did not feel it was necessary to
confine himself to one style. But he used the strengths of each work to benefit
and drive him towards a new age of architecture. These strengths were
accomplished through out each of his works and helped him to establish the
relationship he created between the functions of his buildings and then art
that each possessed. The art referring to a more metaphorical art towards the
end of his career rather than physical art that was placed in them in the
earlier decades if his life.

In conclusion over the decade of his
fifty-year career Johnson’s understanding for architecture was always the same,
but his execution was what changed. He was always about the experience and
human relationship to the building. Take into consideration any of the works on
the estate and each one he tediously worked to provide each with their own
individual experiences. The idea behind the estate was to provide the
opportunities for a variety of activities, to be experience while also
designing with an understanding for the different moods and seasons of the
estate. They are a system that work together in a harmony.

References
Bjone, Christian. Philip
Johnson and his mischief: appropriation in art and architecture. Mulgrave,
Victoria, Australia: Images Publishing, 2014.
Eisenman,
Peter. “Eisenman inside out: selected writings,
1963-1988.” Yale University Press 42, no. 03: 89.
Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Films Media Group,
and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. Philip Johnson Embellish the Earth.
New York, N.Y.: Films Media Group, 2008.
Fox, Stephen, and Lewis, Hilary. The architecture of Philip Johnson. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 2002.
Goldberger, Paul. Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie
Architects. New York: Monacelli Press, 2002.
Johnson, Philip, Mark. Wigley, and Museum of Modern
Art. Deconstructivist Architecture. New York: Boston: Museum of
Modern Art; Distributed by New York Graphic Society Books, Little Brown and,
1988.
Johnson, Philip. Writings. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1979.
Petit, Emmanuel, and Beatriz, Colomina. Philip
Johnson: The Constancy of Change. New Haven: Yale University Press: In
Association with the Yale University School of Architecture, 2009.
Lange, Alexandra.
“Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses.” The New York Times.
February 13, 2015.
Lewis, Hillary. The Architect in His Own Words.
Rizzoli, New York, 1994.
Journal of
the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 75 No. 3, October 2017
“The
Glass House.” The Glass House Philip Johnson Comments. Accessed November 14,
2017. http://theglasshouse.org/learn/philip-johnson/.

1 Eisenman, Peter. “Eisenman inside out: selected
writings, 1963-1988.” Yale University Press 42, no. 03: 89.

2
Johnson, Philip. Writings. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1979.

3 Lange, Alexandra.
“Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses.” The New York Times. February
13, 2015.

4
Fox, Stephen, and Lewis, Hilary. The architecture of Philip Johnson. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 2002.

5
Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Films Media Group,
and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. Philip Johnson Embellish the Earth.
New York, N.Y.: Films Media Group, 2008.

6 Lange, Alexandra.
“Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses.” The New York Times. February
13, 2015.

7 Lange, Alexandra.
“Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses.” The New York Times. February
13, 2015.

8 Lange, Alexandra.
“Philip Johnson’s Not Glass Houses.” The New York Times. February
13, 2015.

9 “Ibid.”

10 “Ibid.”

11Johnson, Philip, Mark. Wigley, and Museum of Modern
Art. Deconstructivist Architecture. New York: Boston: Museum of
Modern Art; Distributed by New York Graphic Society Books, Little Brown and,
1988.

12
Petit, Emmanuel, and Beatriz, Colomina. Philip
Johnson: The Constancy of Change. New Haven: Yale University Press: In
Association with the Yale University School of Architecture, 2009.

13
Bjone, Christian. Philip
Johnson and his mischief: appropriation in art and architecture. Mulgrave,
Victoria, Australia: Images Publishing, 2014.

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