How to Look at Philip Johnson’s Glass House – Slog

The Glass House is located on 47 acres of land in the rolling low hills of New Canaan, Connecticut. The structure makes nature a central part of the building’s design with floor-to-ceiling glass panels enveloping the house. Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and completed in 1949, experts consider the Glass House to be one of the finest examples of Modernist architecture in the United States.

The man who designed and lived inside this house was Philip Johnson, one of the best known and most influential American architects outside of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, Johnson, who enjoyed a successful career spanning decades, was also a known white supremacist and a Nazi sympathizer.

On November 27, a group of 30 artists, architects and academics sent a letter to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where Johnson founded the architecture department and was curator for over fifty years, calling on the institution to remove all mention of Johnson in his public spaces, honorary titles and leadership titles. The letter also names the Harvard Graduate School of Design and any nonprofit organization open to the public that uses Johnson’s name to stop doing so.

Johnson’s white supremacist beliefs are very well documented and even known to the FBI. This call is not about “canceling” Johnson or erasing his existence from history, but rather to rethink how we want to celebrate figures like him.

“Johnson’s architectural work has a role to play in archives and historic preservation,” writes the Johnson Study Group in its letter. “However, naming the titles and spaces inevitably suggests that the laureate is a role model for curators, administrators, students and others who participate in these institutions.” More from the letter:

Johnson’s commitment to white supremacy was significant and consistent. He used his office at MoMA and his work as a curator as a pretext to collaborate with the German Nazi Party, including personally translating propaganda, distributing Nazi publications, and forming an affiliated fascist party in Louisiana. He effectively separated the architectural collection from MoMA, where under his leadership (1933-1988) no work by a black architect or designer was included in the collection. He not only nodded, but added to the persistent practice of racism in architecture, a legacy that continues to hurt today.

As Curbed pointed out, Johnson also supported anti-Semitic radio demagogue Father Coughlin, designed a scene for Coughlin based on that used by Hitler, and called attending Nazi rallies “exhilarating.” Although he apparently turned away from Nazism after WWII, his wealth and social connections allowed him to continue in influential positions. I should also note that in the 1990s Johnson worked closely with a prominent New York real estate developer by the name of Donald Trump.

The group calls on all MoMA members and all Harvard GSD alumni to stop supporting either institution until they strike Johnson’s name from all places and titles. MoMA currently has a curatorial post named after the man – Philip Johnson, chief curator of architecture and design – and his name written on the walls of the museum he helped found. Neither MoMA nor Harvard GSD have yet responded to the letter.

As for how this news affects the way we look at Glass House, I would just like to say that it’s only fitting that a man who lived in a glass box had little qualms about voicing his opinions to the public. We know what’s inside and we keep showing it.

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