Letter: Philip Johnson was an architect and activist
To the Editor:
Yes, Philip Johnson was a brilliant architect, a pioneer in the use of glass and aluminum in skyscraper construction. And of course his work is held up as models for university students. It’s true, too, that his famous glass house and other structures on his 77-acre estate in New Canaan are now a museum (though open only to limited groups and even then only by appointment).
None of this, however, obviates his abominable behavior in the years leading to World War II and the Holocaust, when he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for Adolf Hitler and an active supporter of Nazi bigotry and “master race” supremacy.
Nor does it excuse his failure to apologize and recant after the war. Instead, while the ovens at Auschwitz were still hot, he offered only a lame alibi, stating that the “fantasies” of his youth had succumbed to the oratory and pageantry of Nazi rallies. Decades later, however, there was what may have been an attempt at atonement when he provided pro bono architectural service to a Westchester County congregation remodeling its synagogue.
Johnson was not a humble man. With his fame and wealth, how could he be? But as we chatted over tea in his famous glass house one spring afternoon some years ago, he was a gracious host, even when a bit haughty, the kind of man that might embrace “master race” inclinations.
Buildings will stand as monuments to his work. We don’t need to make them also memorials to his Nazi activism by labeling them with his name.