Architecture’s Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson

Fallingwater in bear run, pennsylvania, built by frank lloyd wright
Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, built by Frank Lloyd Wright / © Getty Images

They were rivals who shaped American architecture, but to call them an ‘odd couple’ overstates their relationship

Frank Lloyd Wright was a true original – creator of buildings both flawed and brilliant, a devout believer in his own genius, nature-loving, midwestern, New-York-hating – who sought to realise an American pioneer spirit, one that broke with the old world of classical columns and pediments. He would speak with quasi-biblical language about the truths he claimed for his life and architecture. He was, arguably, America’s greatest architect.

Philip Johnson was perhaps most at home at his table in the Four Seasons restaurant off Park Avenue, a space of sophistication and great cost created to his designs. He was urbane, Europhile, plagiaristic, fascinated with the superficial, a self-confessed “whore”, sociable, political, an operator both Machiavellian and Mephistophelean. He was a mostly terrible architect, who nonetheless managed to create or assist in some of the most influential buildings of 20th-century America. The critic Paul Goldberger called him “the greatest architectural presence of our time”, which was roughly right – a presence rather than an actual architect.

Johnson was gay, Wright given to homophobic barbs. So they didn’t have much in common. Except that they were also both attention-seekers and masters of self-promotion. Both lived long, Wright to 91 and Johnson to 98, and each reinvented his career more than once. They liked dressing up, Wright in cape and porkpie hat, Johnson in fedora and fine suits. Both made it on to the front cover of Time magazine alongside images of their most famous works – Wright’s house Fallingwater, dramatically suspended over a waterfall, and Johnson’s “Chippendale” skyscraper for AT&T, a tower that looked like 18th-century furniture. They both had unfortunate sympathies for Nazi Germany, Johnson more than Wright. […]

Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today.
Aline Chahine
Aline Chahine
Aline is an international licensed architect currently practicing in Canada, she is the reason you are reading this right now, Aline founded the platform back in 2008 shaping the very foundation of Architecture Lab, her exemplary content curation process that defines the online magazine today. Highlights Aline founded Architecture Lab in 2008 Lead editor of dan | dailyarchnews since 2019 Founded and Creative Director of DesignRaid Licensed architect with creative sales and marketing experience Experience As full-fledged architect, Aline's background involved a great deal of research that lead to the creation of Architecture Lab as an online database of exemplary design. Her experience snowballed into founding two architecture platforms, Architecture Lab and DesignRaid. Education Aline received USEK’s Master of Architecture in 2004 and BA in English from the University of Toronto
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About Architecture Lab Architecture Lab is a MKR.S Media brand, a website devoted to extraordinary design and aesthetics aiming to promote exceptional aesthetic values and sustainable design in all it's shapes and sizes. Learn more about us and our editorial process and feel free to contact us if you would like to see something in particular on the website, our certified experts will get back to you with the most trustworthy advice as soon as possible. Read all articles by Aline | Follow her on LinkedIn

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