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The Architecture of Philip Johnson    by Hilary Lewis, Philip Johnson & Richard Payne order for
Architecture of Philip Johnson
by Hilary Lewis
Order:  USA  Can
Bulfinch, 2002 (2002)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This superb coffee table book about one of the greats of American architecture, is full of gorgeous photographs that display his works in context of their surroundings. In his introductory comments, Philip Johnson says 'I have always had a weakness for round or curved surfaces. They catch light so much better than square or right-angle corners.' Flipping through the pictures of buildings, these curves draw the eye, as well as clean lines and an extensive use of glass that pulls in the outdoors.

Hilary Lewis, who wrote the essay in this book, tells us that Johnson's own home, his famed Glass House, captures the arcitect's essence - 'a sleek, urbane structure with a pavilion-dotted country landscape' that 'brings together modernity and intellect while embracing tradition and history'. Lewis discusses influences on Johnson's work and tells us that the architect was brought to tears by the sight of Chartres Cathedral and by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

She also puts Johnson's designs in context of the early 1930s when he began and, with others, brought the International Style from Europe to the US, a style that is now the 'prevalent corporate style' of the country. Lewis discusses Johnson's passion for '"procession" ... the visual experience of moving through a building or a series of buildings' and its impact on his landscape architecture. Pages quoting Johnson are scattered through the book.

Lewis tells us that Johnson 'likes the clever and witty in architecture' and is most impressed by 'Italian, above all else'. He disagrees with the attitude prevalent during his studies that form should follow function, incorporates 'safe danger' in his designs, often creates playful buildings, and is, at the age of 95, still enjoying a period of experimentation. We are told that Johnson agrees with Heraclitus that 'the only constant is change' and this is certainly reflected in his life's work so far.

Philip Johnson tells us that 'Ars longa, vita brevis, life is short, but art is long' and it is to be hoped that that is the case with his own beautiful buildings, whose display in this book is breathtaking - a veritable feast for the eyes.

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