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January 27, 2005

Philip Johnson, Dean and Dickens of Architecture Dies

Philip Johnson, one of the world's most passionate and controversial architects, died Tuesday at his compound around the Glass House, his austere masterpiece in New Canaan, Conn.

He was appreciated as much for his opinions and support of other architects as he was for the Glass House, now considered one of the best examples of a home an architect built for himself but which, when it was built, garnered caustic complaints from neighbors.

Designer of the Four Seasons restaurant, the MoMa's sculpture garden and the pre-Columbian gallery in Washington's Dumbarton Oaks, all accepted as architectural masterpieces of the 20th century, Johnson flung himself into a variety of architectural styles throughout his long career.

His compound in New Canaan reveals, in the Glass House, his respect for Mies van der Rohe and, in the Gatehouse, a bending billowing structure, Frank Gehry's influence. He became impassioned with each evolution of architecture and built buildings in a variety of styles, some of which, like the AT & T building in NYC (now the Sony building) with its pink granite facade and Chippendale inspired shape, seem more of an anachronism than homage.

He is widely credited with having spread the reputation of Mies, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier into the United States with his 1932 book, authored with Henry-Russell Hitchcock after a European tour of Modern's earliest buildings, "The International Style." In 1979, a year after receiving the highest award for an American architect, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, he won the first awarded Pritzker Prize.

But he was controversial, too--More for his brief but outspoken admiration of fascism than for his homosexuality, but also for his contributions to his field. Some say he simply combined and reused previous innovations and styles. All agree that perhaps his greatest contribution was his mentoring and support of young architects.

Johnson donated his Glass House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with the intention that it would become a museum open for tours.

In 1997, speaking at the Glass House, Johnson said, "We're all interested in immortality. I don't think we care at all about sex. It's nice when it comes along, but what you live for is immortality, and my bid for it is my architecture, especially this place."

If the parties, dinners, essays and symposiums that celebrated his 90th birthday are any indication, Johnson will be remembered for many times his 98 years.

Read more about Philip Johnson in the New York Times and at

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