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Dallas Memorial Service Planned for Architect Philip Johnson

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas Memorial Service Planned for Architect Philip Johnson

Dallas, TX –

Cuellar: Although he was best known for the AT&T tower in New York or Crystal Cathedral in California, Philip Johnson had more work in Texas than anywhere else - about two dozen projects. Dallas is home to his Thanks-Giving Square, Kennedy Memorial, and The Crescent. The Fort Worth Water Gardens which he designed drew attention last summer when four people drowned in the active pool. But among his career highlights locally is his 1961 design for the Amon Carter Museum, which set the tone for Fort Worth's cultural district.

Rick Stewart, Director, Amon Carter Museum: A lot of people come to Fort Worth from outside the state to see the cultural district because actually it's very unique.

Cuellar: Rick Stewart is the Amon Carter Museum's director.

Stewart: And it has grown into a group of architectural landmarks, because with the addition of the Tadao Ando Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, you have a pretty important 1-2-3 punch of architecture in a city.

Cuellar: Johnson's Carter Museum was built on a high point on the far edge of the city, and utilized landscaping in various shades of green to obscure parked cars and traffic, offering a clear view of downtown Fort Worth's skyline from its porch-style entrance.

Stewart: And when Louis Kahn came to do the Kimball, he actually paid some homage to Philip's style, and you can see a distant relationship between Kahn's design which is a glorious design in and of itself and Philip's porch. Kahn's barrel vaults kind of echo the special arrangements. They're completely different, but Kahn for example was very much aware of the vista that Philip created, and it's known for sure that he deferred to it by not making the Kimball Museum rise above the trees.

Cuellar: The Carter Museum quickly outgrew the original space and built additions in 1964 and 1977. When Johnson was in his 90's, he designed a new building which replaced the previous additions that opened in 2001. Johnson was also commissioned during the 1990' to design the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, his final project. Reverend Michael Piazza persuaded Johnson to take it on.

Rev. Michael Piazza, Cathedral of Hope: The board was really clear they didn't just want to build a bigger building. If it was going to do that it really wanted to do something that was powerful and symbolic and for that to happen we really needed an architect who was going to be creative and think out of the box and someone who could build something that would stand as a symbol, and obviously since Philip Johnson was the world's greatest living gay architect it was the perfect match.

Cuellar: The Cathedral of Hope raised and spent 11 million dollars to acquire land and construct an AIDS memorial bell wall, offices, and classrooms from Johnson's designs. Almost 30 million dollars more is needed to complete the project, including an outdoor plaza that connects the current building to an intimate chapel and the grand sanctuary.

Johnson had another Texas connection. Dallas architect Frank Welch wrote his biography.

Frank Welch, Welch & Associates: I called him on the phone in New York in his office and I said, "Mr. Johnson, you're Texas' favorite out-of-town architect." In a raspy voice, he said, "I should've moved there. I don't have any work now."

Cuellar: Welch says that among 20th century architects, only Frank Lloyd Wright was of equal importance to Johnson in the public's mind. But part of Johnson's charm was his self-deprecating sense of humor.

Welch: He never claimed to be a great architect. He said, and this always brought a laugh, he said, "Maybe I've done one or two buildings that were pretty good." (laughs) His best work probably is in Texas. Maybe his worst work too. (laughs)

Cuellar: Thanks-Giving Square and the Cathedral of Hope are planning a Dallas memorial service for their architect, Philip Johnson. Details will be released online. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.


Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.


Web extras:

Amon Carter Museum - Building History

Cathedral of Hope design by Philip Johnson

Thanks-Giving Square