Jan 26, 2005

Phillip Johnson

Phillip Johnson Posted by Hello
Phillip Johnson died. I guess I should have expected this, since he was 98. He had a long life, with great success and prosperity, and he is well respected in his field of architecture. I became aware of Phillip Johnson when I was in college and his name came up in Art classes, and I recognized some of the buildings he had done in Houston. I think most Houstonian's would recognize his buildings, but his work is so varied, that I don't think most people would realize that he is responsible for so much well-known architecture in Houston. After college I saw a documentary about him on PBS, and I have seen him on the Charlie Rose Show. Because he was already in his 90's when I saw him for the first time on T.V., I was a little surprised by his sharp wit and by the fact that he was gay. He spoke about his sexuality and how he hid it for many years, and there was a tour of his home, an amazing house of glass. It struck me at the time that he spent much of his life in the public eye because of his success, but hiding part of himself; and he will end his years living in a house that while enclosed, is open to the world. There was poetry to this man, and there is poetry to his architectural designs.

Growing up in Houston, I have been in and around many buildings he designed, so I offer my small homage to Phillip Glass through these links to buildings he designed (or helped to design) in Houston, Texas:

Transco Tower (now the Williams Tower) - One of the most popular landmarks in Houston, in part because of the great fountain, but also because of the Art Deco style. It looks like the past and the future meet in this building.

Nations Bank (now Bank of America) - I used to work in this building ca. 1986. I love the pink granite and the gables; and I especially like the cathedral-like lobby at Christmas time. It is really festive during the holidays.

Pennzoil Place - (still Pennzoil Place) - Mom worked in this building when we first moved to Houston in 1978. It is a really odd piece of architecture, it looks like two different buildings from some angles and the black glass makes this building unique. I think this was Phillip Johnson's first sky scraper in Houston.

Chapel of St. Basil - Built in 1997, as far as I can tell this is the most recent of his additions to Houston.

University of Houston School of Architecture - I am an alumnus of U of H, so I enjoyed this building while I was on campus and it is one of the few buildings you can make out from the freeway (I-45) near the campus. You can't miss the ode to the Parthenon on top - ostentatious, and yet classic(al).

The Menil House - This home to John and Dominique de Menil's was built in 1950 and today serves as a gallery for the art they collected over the years. This was his first design in Houston and it introduced him to the city, which allowed him to change the downtown skyline forever.

I heard a quote of his on NPR in which he discussed how he wanted the opportunity to design an airport, but people who are in their 90's are not given those kinds of opportunities, because the projects are expected to take 10-12 years. "It's not fair to nonagenarians." I think it’s not really fair to us that he won’t be here to continue making his rich contributions to American architecture.

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