June 27, 2013

Right up to the time of his death in 2005 Philip Johnson remained a contested figure in 20th century architecture. The man who coined the term ‘International Style’ to define the Modernist aesthetic was, throughout his seventy year career, accused of being a stylist at best, a plagiarist at worst. But last weekend I was sent a vintage 1972 edition of Thames&Hudson’s very excellent monograph dedicated to Johnson’s oeuvre (and luckily published before his kitschish post-modern AT&T skyscraper of 1984). The brilliant essay by Charles Noble traces the intricate and symbiotic relationship between Johnson and his mentor Mies van der Rohe from their first meeting in Berlin in 1928 through to their intense working relationship once van der Rohe had immigrated to America, along with Walter Gropius and Marcel Brueur in the wake of WWII. It’s an incredible story of the way knowledge and aesthetics can be channeled from troubled Old World source to liberal New World context – and if Johnson has sometimes been portrayed as the spoiled son of the wealthy intelligentsia to Mies’ artist starving in a garret, the outcome was nonetheless some of the most spectacular buildings of the last 100 years – as witnessed by Yukio Futagawa’s luscious black & white and colour photography. 

If you don’t have a friend addicted to trawling second hand book stores, go to trove and search by ISBN 0500 580 12X – well worth it!

Author: Nick tobias