Today we honor and celebrate one of the most significant architects of the 20th Century, the pioneering Philip Johnson. Born in 1906 in Cleveland, OH, he attended the Hackley School and Harvard, studying history and philosophy. He interrupted his studies to travel to Europe, where he developed his fascination with architecture.
In 1928 Johnson met with architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; the meeting was a revelation for Johnson and formed the basis for a lifelong relationship of both collaboration and competition. With two friends, he assembled the landmark show “The International Style: Architecture Since 1922” at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1932. The show was profoundly influential and is seen as the introduction of modern architecture to the American public. It introduced such pivotal architects as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe. The exhibition was also notable for a controversy: architect Frank Lloyd Wright withdrew his entries in pique that he was not more prominently featured.
Around the same time, in 1930, he founded the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; later (1978), as a trustee, he was awarded an American Institute of Architects Gold Medal and the first Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1979. His work is so far-reaching that it is difficult to summarize. Perhaps his most famous structure was his personal retreat, the Glass House. A good list of his other major works is on Wikipedia. While he never hid the fact that he was gay, his chosen industry allowed him to live his life as an “open secret.” He came out publicly in his biography in 1994 at the age of 88.
Johnson designed a new sanctuary and chapel for Dallas’s Cathedral of Hope, at 4,000 members the nation’s largest gay and lesbian religious congregation. The chapel was dedicated in 2010, but the 2,000 seat main sanctuary remains unbuilt because of a lack of funds. The design has no parallel lines; the walls twist, tilt, and bend into ceilings and floors. It reflects the understanding that the LGBT community is integral to society, not alien from it. The Cathedral of Hope complex was Johnson’s last project before his death in 2005. He died at the age of 99, leaving his partner of over 45 years, David Whitney.