Philip & I
To all who talked/wrote publicly about Philip, from the seventies until today:
"You cannot not know history"
Philip & I
The most important part of each other's professional life
In the most significant decade of Philip Johnson's professional life,
he barely designed anything.
During this period, I designed all the significant projects (and practically all the rest).
What emerged early on, and lasted the entire decade, was the pattern in which:
Armed with my work, Philip attracted top clients with projects of top design opportunities.
I designed them.
Philip then, with brilliance, enthusiasm and endless charm, sold my designs to the clients.
he sold my designs after his attempts were rejected by the client.
Others, he either chose mine, or didn't even attempt to design on his own.
Philip was my best client.
It became almost a routine for Philip, when I presented him with a new design, to sum it up
in one word — "inevitable" — before grabbing it and selling it to the client.
"No one can give you anything that I can't give you"
Was Philip's response (1972) when I was considering another position.
Followed by fulfilling all my far-reaching requests for going forward towards a "partnership."
And followed with his offer for me to move with my family to his Glass House compound (I declined).
Then came AT&T and PPG.
The only projects in which Philip imposed the stylistic direction.
These projects marked for me the end of our professional relationship.
"HURRY UP ELI !"
Greeting card from office members wishing me rapid recovery from a knee surgery
Illustration by Maki
a staff member
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Administered the practice
John (Burgee) administered the practice. Period.
John never participated in any discussions regarding design.
In the decade I was there — and the thousands of hours the three of us had spent together —
John did not add anything to the design of any project.
Not in words. Not in forms. Not in lines.
The very few times in which he did make an attempt to say something regarding design,
I used to hand him my pencil urging him to show us what he was talking about.
He never picked it up.
Philip & John
Have conspired to take credit for my designs
Philip & John have conspired to take credit for my designs — from broad generalities about the way they "design together," to specific designs.
Since 1979, Philip & John went out of their way in presenting themselves as the creators of my designs, actively putting it on the record in interviews & (many) books — 'establishing' themselves personally, as the designers.
And they have gone further.
They have taken credit for my architectural vision and design strategies. The one that brought me to America. The one I pitched to Philip in my initial interview (and was hired on the spot). The one I spent my ten years with them and the following 40 years — perfecting. (See more below)
They have taken credit for my life's work. What gave birth to my breakthrough technologies.
My apologies for the lengthy section below. But 40 years of relentless campaign to create a false reality, warrants it.
1979 (the year I left) — the first paragraph in their first book together:
"Philip Johnson and John Burgee met fifteen years ago... What they eventually formed was an unusual partnership, one in which both members not only design, but one in which they design together. The result has been the best work in either of their careers, the receipt of every award that is given to architects and some that aren’t, and international attention of the highest order for more than a decade."
Johnson/Burgee Architecture 1979
"Philip Johnson: "But it wasn't just me, it was my partner John Burgee and me, you see, because I was never in the big time before John Burgee joined me. Oh no, I was nothing. Just a simple farm boy. You see, he's capable, clear-headed, and a very good designer. And that's the combination: Johnson and Burgee." "
Hype Steven M. L. Aronson 1983
“After discussions between the partners, often over drinks returning them from a site visit, Johnson undertakes the preliminary concept. He works six days a week, usually taking Fridays off, but designing at his Glass House estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, on Saturdays and Sundays. Much of the time he is in his studio thinking about schemes."
"Surrounded by volumes of architectural history books and uninterrupted by such intrusions as the telephone, Johnson designs in solitude.”
“The next step... He brings in a bunch of sketches done over the weekend and he and Burgee go over them, selecting some to be drawn up formally by the sixty-member staff. They often talk in shorthand, developed during their years together. Johnson emphasizes that their efforts are very collaborative in nature. He describes Burgee as “a great critic,” adding that “Burgee has a good design sense.” Johnson credits the idea for both the sliced-off tops of Pennzoil Place in Houston, ...that really put the firm on the road to high-rise heaven, and the Chippendale-inspired pediment of AT&T to his partner.”
Philip Johnson/John Burgee Architecture 1985
True. From 1979 to 1985, both Philip (at the age of 73) & John could have gone, together, through a metamorphosis to become the duo-designers they claim to be. But, since Pennzoil Place and AT&T were designed by me (1972 and 1978), their detailed description above, metamorphosis or not, is a lie.
Here is how it was on the few occasions Philip did make an attempt over the weekend to come up with a "scheme" for a new project:
That following Monday morning he would either come to my office, or called me to his. John was never a part of these meetings. Philip brought with him one or two meaningless, incoherent sketches, which he discarded immediately when I showed him mine.
Taking credit for specific designs
While taking credit for specific designs, Philip & John have:
Described Philip's design that never existed;
Described John's design contributions that never existed;
Have given contradicting versions of how they arrived at 'their' designs;
Described design processes and decisions that defy logic; and
Geometric manipulations that simply do not exist.
All the while,
Insulting the integrity of my work by grouping it with inferior designs that were produced in their office before I came, and after I left; and,
On one occasion, actually violating it. (See 'Design backstory' of 101 California Street.)
Adding insult to injury
Philip, not only took credit for my achievements, but always made a point of how amazingly easy it was for him to come up with all these breakthrough designs.
For example, with Pennzoil Place, he didn't only 'introduce' a new direction in architecture — breaking the modernist glass box made popular by followers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe — but that he did it, “just for fun.”
“Liedtke (Pennzoil's CEO) wanted something with a top to it, so I designed a building with a fascinating top. That was my first destruction of Miesian clarity — just for fun, Just to do something.”
(John was left out in this particular version.)
Philip Johnson The Architect In His Own Words’ Hillary Lewis 1994
Pennzoil place was designed by Philip & John, "doodling" together on a cocktail napkin, while drunk. "A martini or two later," they came up, together with the top ("shed"). Later, after a model was built, they "repeated the shed down at the bottom for the entrance."
Raising the bar Mark Seal 1983
Taking credit for my architectural vision and design strategies
The shape of tall buildings
My architectural vision and design strategy, which I introduced to Philip in my initial interview, was about the new horizon of endless new possibilities in combining the most advanced tall buildings' technology as presented in Mies Van der Rohe's latest work, with shaping them, as a strategy for unlocking their urban, economic, and aesthetic potential.
It was what gave birth to what I have done for their office for ten years, starting within two weeks of joining them.
This same vision is what I was invited to present as a keynote speaker at the 4th World Congress of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) in Hong Kong in 1991. See The shape of tall buildings.
Philip's version — 'The Shape of Office Building'
In a 1976 article, titled "The Shape of Office Buildings" Philip gives credit to John and himself, personally — for breaking the modernist glass box design made popular by followers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Philip talks specifically about nine projects. Eight of which are my designs, and the ninth is the architecturally unrelated IDS building.
"...[W]e have been fortunate to be able to design low and high-rise office buildings. Now as before, designs having certain similarities have stimulated our imagination.
"People are bored with standing matchboxes. They are unsatisfied with monotonous shapes... John Burgee and I, have taken the path of using plain glass surfaces and then moving into and playing with three-dimensional geometric forms. With simple and yet striking angles, our work has reached its height as exemplified by the Pennzoil Building in Houston, and General American Life bldg.
in St Louis."
An article in A+U Architecture and Urbanism Magazine, Japan 1976
After six years of an ongoing, almost daily teaching of my Design strategies — and how each of my designs came into being — this description was the best Philip could have come up with. Enough said.
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Ada Louise Huxtable (1979)
"Off the record..."
When Ada Louise Huxtable came to my new office to look at my first independent commission,
101 Park Avenue in Manhattan, she shared with me “off the record,” how clear it was that I designed: Pennzoil Place, The Crystal Cathedral, 101 California and more.
Her following critique of 101 Park Avenue — mirroring in so many ways her critique of Pennzoil Place three years prior — was one of the greatest gifts I got along the way.
Philip & I (1993)
Letter #1 — Destroying my professional reputation; Letter #2 — Confession
While Philip and John never stopped taking credit for my designs (Philip, practically until his death in 2005) —
they have never challenged my claims in my brochures, lectures and shows to be the sole designer
of their projects — not privately to me. Not publicly.
But, as it turned out, privately behind my back was a different story.
In 1993, David Azrieli, a developer, asked Philip to participate in destroying my professional reputation.
Specifically, he asked Philip to write a letter declaring that my claims (in my brochures)
that I designed all these projects for Johnson/Burgee — were all lies.
Letter #1 — Destroying my professional reputation
Responding to my demands (the day his letter was presented by Azrieli in an arbitration) —
that he would correct the record and tell the truth, otherwise I would have to prove it in court —
Philip, surprised I knew of letter #1, explained that he was "frightened" by Azrieli's daughter, Naomi, and
proceeded to, Instantly, correct the record.
Letter #2 — Confession
(While the two letters together say it all, Azrieli (until his death) and his influential inner circle to this day,
can use letter #1 only for their ongoing campaign to destroy me professionally.)
Philip & I (2000-2005)
Doing right for architecture & saying goodbye
Doing the right thing for architecture (2000)
When the Second Circuit Court — without a trial — overhauled the architectural profession
by not giving the architect's design solution the protection it must have,
Philip (and nine other leading architects), who joined me
in a signed statement to the US Supreme Court, stated:
“An architect’s design solution — concept design — is the core of creativity in architecture
and must qualify for copyright protection. ...
“It is crucial that the Supreme Court clearly defines the protection that the Copyright Act
affords architectural work. This will serve to prevent a potentially devastating encroachment
on the rights of creative and innovative architects,
thereby preserving inspiration, innovation, and progress in architecture and urbanism.”
Doing the right thing for the future of Ground Zero (2002)
Philip was a very early supporter of my petition
calling for an open design competition for an integrated solution
for the entire World Trade Center site with no predetermined restrictions —
the only way to get humanity's best.
The last time I saw Philip (2005)
Upon hearing that Philip was very ill, I called him. Sounding very frail, he asked me to come see him.
I took the train to the glass house. A nurse opened the door and informed me that she had to follow
instructions by his partner (David Whitney) not to let anyone in.
She checked with Philip and showed me to his bed.
After a short chat, he closed his eyes and held my hand very tightly for a very long time.
Philip & John’s 20-year partnership
What would it have looked like without my designs?
Post Oak Central
101 California Street
The Crystal Cathedral
And 30-something more
Pennzoil Place, Gerry Hines and his own ‘legacy’
“Pennzoil Place in Houston [is the project] that really put the firm on the road to high-rise heaven.” 1985
"John Burgee and I have taken the path [of shaping office buildings].
...our work has reached its height as exemplified by the Pennzoil building..." 1976
"That was my first destruction of Miesian clarity" 1994
“Pennzoil Place caused Gerald Hines to be acclaimed a patron of architecture.” 2002
“We are Hines’s biggest architects now, and other people say,
“well, if Gerry Hines like them, they must be good.” ” 1983
“Everything I’ve done, and everything I’ve been, I owe to Gerry Hines.” 1998
The Crystal Cathedral
“If architects are remembered for their one-room buildings... “This may be it for me." "
What would Philip and John's 20-year partnership have looked like without my designs.