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If you like Philip Johnson's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Frank Gehry,
Maya Lin,
James Rosenquist,
Robert Schuller,
Fritz Scholder,
Norman Schwarzkopf,
Vincent Scully and
Wayne Thiebaud

Philip Johnson's recommended reading: The Republic

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Philip Johnson in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Meet the Architects

Related Links:
PJAR Architects
American Masters
Pritzker Prize
Architectural Digest

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Philip Johnson
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Philip Johnson Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Dean of American Architects

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  Philip Johnson

What does it take to be an architect?

Philip Johnson: To be an architect, you've got to know people. Like most professions. You have to know people in order to get the next job.

As the richest and the greatest American architect said, "The first principle of architecture is, get the job." In other words, if you aren't personable enough or persuasive enough to get the job, you'll never get anywhere. Another important thing, it's hard to tell anybody what's important because it's inside you. Alas for education. Education doth not help you. You can read all the books in the world and make terrible designs. I had learned professors that I worshipped. Russell Hitchcock. He was a great, great historian of architecture. I wanted to be an architectural historian, that was one of my passing fancies, but I wasn't any good, and this guy was great. And then he tried to build a building. Disaster! In other words, it takes something else besides intellectual prowess. Harvard will never help you become an architect. Never. It takes what they laughingly call genius, but there are only a couple of geniuses once in a while like an Einstein or a Frank Lloyd Wright. No one can aspire to that. That either is God-given or not. There is nothing you can do about it. It's just too big. So you've got to have at least a spark. I'm no Frank Lloyd Wright, that doesn't bother me anymore. It used to, but I was never the genius. It was interesting though, to see who would be and who could be. I foresaw a lot of kids' careers that are now on the top, and I foresaw. I could tell when they were younger that they were going to be good. "I never could see why you like Frank Gehry's work," and I said, "You wait." And in ten years, indeed, he's the leading architect of the world. That kind of thing gives one a certain pleasure.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

All of my advice is straight to all kids, "Should I be an architect?" I say "No." Always say no, because if you can help it, don't. Go into something that'll make money, if that's what most Americans seem to want, me included. Just don't bother with architecture. You remember when a kid came up to Mozart and said, "Should I write a symphony now, Mr. Mozart? Do you know what I do?" Mozart said, "No." And the kid said, "Why do you say no? You wrote a symphony when you were my age," and he said, "Yeah, but I didn't ask anybody." In other words, if you're going to be an architect, you'd better have a feeling inside that you can't help it. A "calling" it used to be called in the days when religion was a little more popular.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Philip Johnson Interview Photo
Philip Johnson Interview Photo

What about your meeting Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe? How did that influence you?

Only Mies influenced me. Le Corbusier I met. He was a nasty man, but obviously a genius. You don't have to like the people just because they're geniuses. Mies and I got along better and we became pretty close. I worked with him on his greatest building here, the Seagram building, which was kind of fun, but again, you can't be a hero-worshipper and be an uncommon architect; you've got to be your own man. So I split with Mies and did a different kind of work.

Can you say something about what inspires an architectural design? What goes through your mind?

Disaster. Agony. You're a writer. You know what a thing that blank piece of paper is. That's the ultimate horror. After about an hour of sweating over nothing, you finally, crabbedly write the beginning and that's what I do, what all architects do. Then you make a very tentative drawing and that's terrible. But somehow you get interested. Then you start a different idea and that's no good, but what about that idea, what about that idea? And your whole day passes in flashes because -- it's not a flash of genius in my case, but it's a flash of getting something on paper. Very funny.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

There's no talking about it though.

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This page last revised on Nov 28, 2012 18:11 EDT
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