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'Glass Box' Architect Philip Johnson Dead at 98


During his lifetime, American architect Philip Johnson embraced many styles, but his so-called "glass-box" skyscraper designs sparked an architectural revolution.

Mr. Johnson died Tuesday night at the age of 98 at his home in Connecticut -- a building he designed himself. The glass box in the woods was an example of the severe modernism that -- for a time -- was the hallmark of Philip Johnson's creations.

Together with partner John Burgee, Mr. Johnson designed the Crystal Cathedral in southern California. More than 12 stories tall and created out of more than 12,000 individual panes of glass, it is the largest glass building in the world.

But glass was not the only medium he worked in. "Philip Johnson's work cannot be characterized by a single, consistent style," says Phil Simon, a spokesperson for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). "Instead, he creatively shaped each design anew in response to the dreams of his clients, the cultural influences of the time, and the intrinsic qualities of the site. He was a visionary, a contemporary American architect who did not play by the rules. He made them."

Philip Johnson and his partner also designed the RepublicBank in Houston, a 56-story tower made of pink granite -- as well as the Cleveland Playhouse, a theater complex that resembles an 11th-century European town.

Cleveland is actually the place where Mr. Johnson was born in 1906. After graduating with a degree in philosophy from Harvard in 1927, he went on an extended tour of Europe, where he became interested in new styles of architecture. In 1932, he was appointed chairman of the department of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. He eventually designed the west wing of that building, along with MOMA's famous sculpture garden.

"The genius of his work will never rest," says the AIA's Phil Simon. "It will continue to challenge us and be part of our exploration of our own values and our art. This in and of itself is a kind of immortality - a living gift, if you will, to succeeding generations."

Philip Johnson was awarded the American Institute of Architect's Gold Medal in 1978. The following year, he became the first recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most prestigious award in world architecture.

Toward the end of his life, Mr. Johnson admitted publicly that, during the time he spent in Europe in the 1930s, he had been attracted to the fascist philosophies of Adolph Hitler. He called that fascination an "utter, unbelievable stupidity" and questioned whether he would ever be able to atone for it.

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