Architecture's odd couple Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson

Hugh Howard, 1952-

Book - 2016

"In architectural terms, the twentieth century can be largely summed up with two names: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. Wright (1867-1959) began it with his romantic prairie style; Johnson (1906-2005) brought down the curtain with his spare postmodernist experiments. Between them, they built some of the most admired and discussed buildings in American history. Differing radically in their views on architecture, Wright and Johnson shared a restless creativity, enormous charisma, and an outspokenness that made each man irresistible to the media. Often publicly at odds, they were the twentieth century's flint and steel; their repeated encounters consistently set off sparks. Yet as acclaimed historian Hugh Howard shows, their r...ivalry was also a fruitful artistic conversation, one that yielded new directions for both men. It was not despite but rather because of their contentious--and not always admiring--relationship that they were able so powerfully to influence history. In Architecture's Odd Couple, Howard deftly traces the historical threads connecting the two men and offers readers a distinct perspective on the era they so enlivened with their designs. Featuring many of the structures that defined modern space--from Fallingwater to the Guggenheim, from the Glass House to the Seagram Building--this book presents an arresting portrait of modern architecture's odd couple and how they shaped the American landscape by shaping each other"--

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New York, NY : Bloomsbury Press, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2016.
Main Author
Hugh Howard, 1952- (author)
Physical Description
x, 333 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 285-320) and index.
  • Prologue: The Master and the Maestro
  • Part I. A Meeting of Minds
  • Chapter 1. Two Conversations
  • Chapter 2. Plotting a Comeback
  • Chapter 3. European Travels
  • Part II. The Moma Moment
  • Chapter 4. The New Museum
  • Chapter 5. An Invitation Issued
  • Chapter 6. Wright vs. Johnson
  • Chapter 7. The Show Must Go On
  • Part III. Acting out their Antagonism
  • Chapter 8. The Banks of Bear Run
  • Chapter 9. Politics and Art
  • Chapter 10. Wright's Manhattan Project
  • Chapter 11. Philip Comes Out Classical
  • Chapter 12. The Whiskey Bottle and the Teapot
  • Epilogue: A Friendly Wrangle
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Sources
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

In this engaging dual portrait, Howard (Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War, 2012), an expert on U.S. presidents and American architecture, considers two iconic twentieth-century architects whose designs transformed America's built environment. He writes, In the years they shared between their first acquaintance in 1931 and Wright's death in April 1959 the two men were the yin and the yang, in love and in hate, the positive and negative charges that gave architecture its compass. During this period, Wright's career seemed to be waning, while Johnson's was taking off, and that intersection is the heart of the story. Howard does an excellent job of portraying these outspoken architects, who were both given to provocative pronouncements as well as personal reinvention over their long careers, and he trains a knowledgeable eye on some of the most important structures of the century, including Wright's Fallingwater and Guggenheim Museum and Johnson's Glass House and Seagram Building. Written with wit and flair and supported by solid research, this thoughtful and well-built book will delight architecture buffs.--Mulac, Carolyn Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this upbeat and informative dual biography, Howard (Houses of the Founding Fathers) follows the intersecting-often conflicting-careers of 20th-century architects Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and Philip Johnson (1906-2005) to demonstrate the influence each had on each other as well as on the American landscape. Though Wright is the acknowledged master, known for his provincial manner and organic style, Howard explains that Johnson brought a sleek international style into vogue and, as curator of architecture at MoMA and pedagogue at Yale's School of Architecture, wielded enormous influence over mid-century building design. The 40-year age difference between the two architects makes for challenging chronology, as Howard must shift back and forth in time to describe each subject's education and career. Still, he successfully shows that when Wright and Johnson's architectural practices did overlap, their antagonistic relationship spurred both of them to their greatest achievements. Howard's prose is fluid, and he deftly explains technical terms without slowing the story. The result is narrative non-fiction of a high order, enlivened by anecdotes and quotations from two very outspoken and colorful characters. Photos. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In a celebrity-obsessed culture, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson may be perfect subjects for a dual biography. Both used their own residences as laboratories for experimentation, had brushes with anti-Semitism, and in their savvy pursuit of publicity, appeared on the cover of Time magazine (Wright in 1938 gazing upward before a rendering of Fallingwater; Johnson in 1979 cradling in his arms a model of the AT&T Building). Yet with over 66 Wright biographies and Franz Schulze's definitive Philip Johnson: Life and Work, what does pairing an exceptional innovator with a clever adapter add to our design knowledge? Here Howard (Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War) begins with Schulze's claim that the two distrusted each other, but with a full generation separating them, were they really competitors? Both "placed architecture at the center of culture," but are there any noted architects who would claim less? Unlike Leonard K. Eaton's Two Chicago Architects and Their Clients, an astute comparison of the clients of Wright and one of his contemporaries, Howard's account reads more like well--researched historical fiction than architectural history, and with the paucity of illustrations, readers must rely on the author's competent verbal descriptions for a sense of the buildings. VERDICT For public library collections with sizable biography sections.-Paul -Glassman, Yeshiva Univ. Libs., New York © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An in-depth portrait of two "grand men of American architecture." The prolific Howard (Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War: America's First Couple and the War of 1812, 2012, etc.) offers up another sterling book of popular history, one about the "peculiar calculus" of the "flint and steel" friendship between two great architects of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) and Philip Johnson (1906-2005). Fierce rivals for nearly 30 years, they were the "yin and the yang, in love and in hate, the positive and the negative charges that gave architecture its compass." Both could be imperious, inspiring, trivial, and proud. Wright was mostly a cantankerous coot. He was the unreformed romantic, Johnson the modernist who still liked the classical. Howard starts by nicely summarizing the early careers of his subjects. Wright's career early on had been dramatic and successful, but in the 1930s, he was languishing. In 1931, Johnson wanted Wright's work represented in a traveling Museum of Modern Art show he was organizing. Wright agreed but later withdrew; his letter included a snide remark about Johnson's homosexuality. Only after Lewis Mumford interceded did Wright capitulate. The show helped resuscitate Wright's career. In 1935, he designed an iconic home for a wealthy client in Pennsylvania: Fallingwater; Johnson "always spoke grudgingly of [it]." They continued to compete: Wright did the Guggenheim Museum, Johnson did the Seagram Building. Howard describes them as a "dog and a cat forced to share the same home." In 1949, Johnson finished his most iconic structure, the Glass House, as something of a rebuttal to Wright's now-famous "waterfall cottage," as Wright called it. Minimalist and modern, Johnson's own residence outside New Haven was made of glass and framing, "akin to a plain black frame on a photograph." Over time, Johnson came to recognize the value of their "odd alliance," finally admitting Wright was the greater architect. New light is shed on both architects in this absorbing, well-organized, delightfully told story. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.