Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I saw the various stories yesterday, and then Miss Janis sent me the link to this story--Celebrated architect Philip Johnson dies at 98. Dr. Smith also sent a note this morning and asked, "OK, I know he was famous, but was he really that big of a deal?"

As I told Miss Janis yesterday, I was a bit too busy to comment on the news of his passing, but even then, what I said then was that I was never one of his big fans. He was certainly a big dog, but much of his genius was in self-promotion. In many ways, he's a lot like Japanese industrial designers, who might not have it all together when it comes to innovation, but are whizzes at taking the ideas of others and running with them to make something that is actually marketable. (All of this is obviously subjective--some are going to say he was a genius of the highest order--so take all of what I might say with a grain of salt.)

In any event, he seemed to have an incredible eye for being able to predict The Next Big Thing, and while he wasn't quite what I would call a true visionary or innovator in the mold of an Aalto or Kahn, he was a very quick study. One of the words that keeps coming up in descriptions of him by those who were around him is "facile." He was a keen talker and intellectual and quickly assimilated the essential elements of subjects, including the ideas of various architectural theories floating around. The good thing about this is that he was able to sidestep some of the difficulties inherent in coming up with Something New, taking the elements and ideas that worked best and pushing those to the forefront.

In a way, and architects don't like to be accused of this, but in a way he was a preeminent stylist. In an architect's mind, "style" isn't really a good thing--it connotes faddishness and surface appearance over deeper meaning and intellectual purity. It's one thing to live in an actual Tudor house, quite another to live in a Tudor "style" house. He, in fact, coined the term "International Style," and while the exhibit he mounted of work by influential German architects did exhibit many new and controversial architectural theories, his subsequent incorporation of those ideas didn't really break any new ground theoretically. He took those ideas (I almost want to say "merely took" but that slights his abilities unnecessarily) and made them marketable. In a way, his eyeglasses are a perfect example. You'll note that caption accompanying the photo in the CNN article says:

"Philip Johnson in an undated photograph, wearing his trademark round black glasses."

Well, before those were HIS trademark round black glasses, they were the trademark of a Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris , otherwise known as Le Corbusier (1887-1966).

Somehow, I think the resemblance was entirely intentional.

Still, Johnson left quite a mark on the landscape during his long career, despite any artistic quibbles about his legitimacy. Of all his work, probably the best in my mind is the Seagram Building, although this is really more to be credited to the mind of Mies van der Rohe.

Here is a PBS site about him, as well as a site with several good photos of his various buildings.

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