Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

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JimM
Posts: 1575
Joined: Thu Jan 06, 2005 5:44 pm
Location: Austin,Texas

Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by JimM »

First time aware of this... would really liked to have found a video. A rather straightforward accounting of the architectural divide between Wright and contemporaries, while at the same time clearly intending to offer quite an homage to a great Architect in the twilight of his career.

Link from Wright Society Newsletter...

https://franklloydwright.org/philip-joh ... ociety_200

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by SDR »

Well.

Johnson gets his troubles out of the way early, before moving on to the meat of the matter, and he ends with the architectural element he apparently values most: procession. (Meanwhile, his comments about the Pacific Northwest architectural scene c. 1957 are a pleasure to encounter, all these years later.)

Let me get my troubles out of the way, too: what house could he be talking about, where a lally column stands in the living room like an afterthought ? Where is there a Usonian with a bedroom so open to the rest that the owner had to add a partition ?

Are both faults found in the same house ? Is the house in southeastern Connecticut, where he lives ? Anybody ?

Cinder block ?? What architect, speaking to a convocation of architects, calls a Concrete Masonry Unit a cinder block ?

After that, as far as I'm concerned, every nail chosen is hit squarely on the head. Is no one now capable of criticizing the Great Man---or are they all cowed by the dictum to speak no ill (as he says) of the dead ? His frankness is refreshing, if perhaps reckless considering that his subject was still very much alive ?

You will look far and wide to find another critique of Frank Lloyd Wright, written at any time before or since April 1959, as pointed, and as on point, as this address, in my opinion. The subjects of Johnson's "tough love" are apt: the work, and the arrogance, are addressed, not the irrelevancies of his personal life and affairs. Can anyone say that the speaker is wrong, on any of these points ?

It is clear that Philip Johnson is no fool, here, and that he knows his friend all too well. Yet the love---the respect---comes through undimmed, by the end of Johnson's remarks. I am glad, at last, to have been introduced to this important if little-known document.

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by Roderick Grant »

It is an interesting speech, though it proves a couple of things he may not have intended:

Johnson, as far as I know, never wrote a book, and the shambling rhetoric of this speech suggests that was a smart move on his part. He could have benefitted from a class in composition, or perhaps a ghost writer.

He also did not know much about construction, even though he emphasized how important it was, and how FLW - lally column, cinder block and all - failed in that respect. Since he didn't have a license to practice architecture, he had to collaborate with those who did to get his designs built. The stylistic inconsistencies become apparent as the various collaborators came and went. (John Burgee was the best of the lot.) Nor did he claim interest in it in an off-the-cuff remark about the structure of his Glass House, when he said he didn't care what went on underneath the surface, as long as it looked the way he wanted it to look.

In the Ken Burns documentary, Johnson referred to himself as a whore who would say anything that came into his mind. He could be entertaining, but he should never be taken too seriously.

SDR
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by SDR »

All quite true; that's why I take this little delivery as important, as there is none of the glib wit that we usually get from PJ. He is in effect giving us a before-the-fact obituary and appreciation. Apparently he was not asked to opine on Mr Wright; he chose this occasion to get something off his chest---all quite sincerely, as I see it. A man should be allowed to drop his mask of indifference when a serious subject arises ?

S

DavidC
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by DavidC »

SDR wrote:
Wed May 06, 2020 8:11 pm
...what house could he be talking about, where a lally column stands in the living room like an afterthought ? Where is there a Usonian with a bedroom so open to the rest that the owner had to add a partition ?...

Are both faults found in the same house ? Is the house in southeastern Connecticut, where he lives ?

The only two Connecticut houses are:

- Frank Sander House "Springbough" - 1952
- John Rayward House "Tirranna" - 1955


And, here are Johnson's pertinent quotes:

"In the last house he did down our way, he was going around so many corners that he didn’t have time to hold up the beams, so he said to the boys, “We’ll put a Lally column there.” Unfortunately it happened to be in the living room."

"He opened the plan so far on this last house that the clients had to get rid of him and put the wall in between the living room and their bedroom because the children woke them up in the morn­ing."


Anyone know the history of these two houses to determine if it was one of them???


David

Roderick Grant
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by Roderick Grant »

Neither Sander nor Rayward needed nor had a Lally column in the living room.
The only Lally column I have seen in a FLW house is Serlin, but that was in a non-FLW addition for a "cat house." Perhaps PJ was confused.

DavidC
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by DavidC »

From looking at Storrer and Mono #8, BBP describes the Sanders as having "...built the house in every way consistent with their architect's directions...". Assuming that to be the case, then it would leave Rayward as the only other Connecticut possibility.

Storer's plan shows that Rayward has no bedrooms abutting the living room, though dining space does abutt the original Master Bedroom. Also, Storrer makes mention of two Rayward daughters (Jennifer and Victoria). Storrer also makes mention of the second owner, Herman R. Shepard, having " brought the design to completion, repairing shoddy construction that resulted from Rayward's constant pursuit of the lowest bid".

Perhaps the original Master Bedroom of Rayward didn't have a full, ceiling-height wall?

And, could the 'lowest bid/shoddy construction' have led to a lally column being put up initially when Johnson saw it back then, corrected by the second owner?


David

SDR
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by SDR »

Thanks for that. Perhaps, if the Connecticut houses fail to cough up the indicated faults, we can take Johnson with a bit more latitude, and include other Northeastern late-period residences---one in Massachusetts, two in New Hampshire, four in New Jersey---and seven in downstate New York, any of them closer to New Canaan than all of the others ?

S

Tom
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Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by Tom »

I enjoyed reading the speech very much.
The part about structure connects with our thread here on 'exposed structure'.
The lally column remark is a hyperbolic joke.
Wright was a wizard when it came to structure - he just concieved of it's role differently.
SDR has been very articulate on this point in this forum.

What PJ says about money and the general tendency of architecture is on target.
Last edited by Tom on Mon May 25, 2020 7:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

loo tee
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Joined: Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:35 pm

Re: Philip Johnson 1957 AIA Speech

Post by loo tee »

Johnson was a much finer critic than architect, and I find this lecture excellent. It's funny how a man's ostensible profession can become less valuable than his secondary occupation. Think of another example: Thomas Hart Benton was a better writer than painter.

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