Text published in the local journal Letras do Café in October 2007, whose theme was “money.”
On the criticism that his projects were easy: “It is because I am a bad architect.” On the activity of the architects: “The duty of an architect today is to create beautiful buildings. That is all.” On his style, clearly influenced by the German architect Mies van der Rohe: “That is because Mies is the easiest to copy.” On the social side of architecture: “Forget the function, ignore the social responsibility. It is just about making things as beautiful as you can do.” On the usefulness of a building: “Comfort is not a function of beauty… the purpose is not a condition to make a building beautiful… sooner or later we will adapt our buildings so that they can be used… where form comes from I don’t know, but it has nothing to do with the functional or sociological aspects of architecture.” And on himself: “I’m a whore.”
Philip Johson: the immoral, the sardonic, the manipulative and the most powerful and influential American architect of the 20th century. Architecture is a power game, especially to him. He graduated from Harvard after inheriting millions of shares from his father, who was a lawyer for aluminium mining companies in Ohio, his home state. In every moment of his career, his ability to entertain, his freedom, his irreverence and the time he could devote to the game’s social performance certainly made him what he was. As founder of the architecture department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and curator of the famous exhibition “The International Style,” he had a key role in formatting the American view on the meaning of architecture and design throughout the twentieth century.
Patron of younger architects like Frank Gehry and Peter Eisenman, much of the international stardom of architecture is what it is because of the support he gave to promising yet unknown architects. It was through this patronage, which included passing on lucrative and prestigious projects for his favourites, that Johnson developed a legion of followers and assumed the title of capo di tuti i capi of American architecture.
He was obviously a cynic, a manipulator of the media, a fabulous interviewer, a journalist who knew how to express himself fully and an unbeatable debater. He also knew how to infiltrate the highest society of New York, where the world of art, the powerful, and the magnates would be. He was the only architect who won the Pritzker Prize not for his work, but for the impact caused due to the contradictory sense of commercialism and opportunism embedded in his career (yet demonstrating a vision of sophisticated, almost European architecture). And within his always nihilistic and iconoclastic attitude, he felt the tragic aspects of the twentieth century, such as the lack of a centre, the lack of clear direction, lack of values and the inevitability of change: “After all, what is the highest purpose?”