philip johnson building

by Dr. Lori Verderame


Philip Johnson was born in Cleveland, OH in 1906 and died in January 2005 at the age of 98. In college, Johnson studied philosophy and classics. He graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1930. In 1932, Johnson became the Chairman of the Dept. of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. At age 25, he curated the groundbreaking exhibition and co-authored the book, International Style Architecture since 1922 with Henry Russell Hitchcock.

Following his tenure at MOMA, Johnson returned to Harvard to study architecture. He graduated from the architecture program in 1943. Interestingly, he resumed his position at MOMA in 1946. He remained with the museum until 1955 when he established his own architectural design firm. A devout follower of Mies van der Rohe, Johnson practiced architecture. In 1967, he took a partner, John Burgee, and embarked upon his mature work in the field.

Famous International Style Buildings

Inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s modern office buildings of the 1950s, Johnson considered the skyscraper not only a symbol of modern architectural progress but also a sign of the innovative modern society. Selected works by Johnson include the groundbreaking Glass House, New Canaan, CT, 1949, the Seagrams Corporate Headquarters, New York, NY, 1952, the Kline Tower at Yale University, New Haven, CT, 1962, the IDS Center, Minneapolis, MN, 1973, Pennzoil Place, Houston, TX, 1976, AT&T Building, New York, NY, 1980.

PPG Place

Located on Market Street in downtown Pittsburgh, PPG Place remains a masterwork for Johnson & Burgee. The design looked to the history of American skyscrapers, gothic spires, and was inspired by the series of high towers at New York’s Rockefeller Center complex.

Philip Johnson's PPG PlacePPG Place, 1979-1984
(Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company)
Pittsburgh, PA
(see right)

Glass has been an important industry in Pittsburgh since the 1700s.  Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company or PPG’s world headquarters shows the industry’s prominence by its 231 glass spires. The spires of glass relate to The Point, a famous gathering site in the city where the three rivers–the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny–meet. Actually, Johnson designed PPG Place to be directly on axis with The Point.

PPG PlaceDetail of PPG Place glass spires.
(see right)

Like cathedral architecture of the 1200s, PPG Place emphasizes great height, verticality in architecture and boasts an interior flooded with light from above. PPG Place recalls the gothic cathedrals while reinventing the modern skyscraper. This building evokes the spires of gothic cathedrals and promotes the notion of the modern glass box.

PPG Place

This PPG skyscraper is 40 stories tall with five satellite buildings that extend out over six city blocks. The PPG complex includes public storefronts on the lower level and the offices of the PPG Company on the upper floors. PPG Place, built during the Pittsburgh’s second renaissance, has become a city landmark. Costs for the complex exceeded $200 million in 1984.