Saturday, 26 May 2012

Philip Johnson

Don't look at the work of Philip Johnson with a hangover. I tried it this morning and it doesn't work, you just start feeling queasy. It's hard not to think of Johnson as a sort of Peter Keating to Mies as Howard Roark. When he wrenched himself free of Mies, the above happened. Reading an old interview I was amused by his general whorishness which was simply very old fashioned and distinctly lacking in heart of gold, but never the less prone to blow a lot of nonsense talked about architecture out of the fiftieth floor window. However, leafing through his collected works with Burgee '79-'85 (clearly productive years!) the overwhelmimg mass of schmaltz was enough to have me recoiling to my imaginary Mies day-bed as one by one every American city fell for Johnson's jazzing up it's downtown with his own giant sized peen to the model village. It is simply astonishing to find work so cataclysmic camp on such a VAST scale. It is very hard to imagine him sitting in that glass house of his actually doing it without tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks. I know, I suppose I've propounded similar stuff, but the difference is I never got away with it.
Nobody seemed to write anything half interesting about Johnson until he was dead. This is of course because he ran everything in the American architectural world from his table in the Four Seasons while he was alive, and everybody admitted it. We don't teach people how to have lunch in architectural school, maybe we should. Hold your liquor, be caustically, viciously, funny, and run everybody scared. This was perhaps his genius.

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