Philip Johnson 1906-2005

Philip Johnson 1906-2005

Maxwell Ryan
Jan 27, 2005

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Your buildings were not my style. Coming before my time, they just seemed a part of the landscape. The hard city streets, the steel and glass towers, the honking taxi cabs, the businessmen in suits. And your glass house. By the time I was in college, inspired by architects who were working with rammed earth, color and corrugated metal, I considered a glass house a strange folly, a voyage in the wrong direction.

But I have always reserved a final opinion since I saw you on the M1 bus going down 5th avenue.

It was 1985, summer, and I was an intern going to work for an architecture firm in midtown. You stepped onto the crowded bus. I recognized you from pictures: dapper black suit, trademark round, black glasses, white hair and a morning paper. Amidst all the sneakers and t-shirts, you seemed as if you stepped out of another age. And even though you were old, you were a gentleman, carefully holding onto the rail and allowing others to sit.

And you rode the bus. Unlike many of the bosses I had known, who took taxi's and limos to work, you rode the bus. How nice it was to see you, the architect of our century, riding the M1 bus. It made me, the intern, feel good. You believed in public transportation.

Amidst the crush of the morning ride down the avenue, you stood smiling until it was your stop. Then, carefully making your way down the steps (someone else held the door for you), you headed out down the avenue at a brisk pace.

Styles differ, and I can't yet weigh in with others on your architecture, but I think the nobility and the goodness I saw in you that day must live in your buildings. I think that that must have been part of your gift. in the meantime, I will continue to look at your buildings, until, like a child listening to classical music, I get it.


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