claass HAUS should be back on track next week with some new posts, but until then enjoy your family and this seasonally-appropriate Philip Johnson design. Love him or hate him (I actually prefer his early modernist phase), you have to admit- his work remains strangely enigmatic, remarkably relevant, and consistently controversial.
A version of this post was originally published on July 14, 2017.
I happened to miss Philip Johnson’s birthday last week*, so I just couldn’t let another day pass without a nod to the spectacled provocateur that ruled architecture for more than a half-century. Since you can find a list of Johnson’s 11 most iconic designs here, I’ll just offer one- the chapel at Thanks-Giving Square. Sometimes described as one of Johnson's earliest forays into postmodernism, the nondenominational chapel is well, a pretty overt copy of the last remaining minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra, its smooth white walls the only abstraction of an otherwise historical form.
Located in the heart of Dallas, Texas, Thanks-Giving Square (dedicated in 1976), the brainchild of four local businessmen during the 1960s, is a unique public gathering place based on the concept of universal gratitude. Designed by Johnson and ideally situated within the bustling commercial district, Thanks-Giving Square remains a quiet place of reflection within the urban confines of the crowded city. While the park itself includes the usual grassy plots, water features, and sculptural elements associated with many public spaces, the centerpiece of Thanks-Giving Square, a stark, spiraling nondenominational chapel, stands as a conspicuous symbol of the park's major themes. The white marble chapel, located on the eastern side of the triangular-shaped park, rises above a sunken garden, its small but striking form contrasting against the gleaming skyscrapers of the Dallas skyline. Reflective of the spiraled minarets of Islamic architecture and symbolic of the “ancient spiral of life,” Johnson’s design suggests the infinite possibilities of a soaring human spirit.
On the interior of the chapel, a simple Carrara marble altar offers a quiet place for reflection, while a prodigious helix-shaped stained glass piece, the Glory Window (designed by Gabriel Loire of France), contains 73 panels of faceted glass and features stunningly bright colors as it spirals to the structure's apex. By omitting religious symbols, Johnson created a spiritual space that allows the visitor to freely explore universal themes of peace, truth, and enduring faith.
In recent years, continuous wear (and damage from dogs!), lack of maintenance, missing signage, and vandalism have all plagued the Johnson-designed park. In addition, like many modern and postmodern urban landscapes, Johnson’s design (and intent) has come under debate as the needs of the surrounding neighborhood continue to change and evolve. But interest in reviving and restoring Thanks-Giving Square has grown in anticipation of the park’s 50th anniversary. (Current restoration plans are available on the Thanks-Giving Foundation’s website.)
That's pretty much it for this week, but if your weekend just isn't complete without a bit more Philip Johnson, here's an article about one of my favorite buildings (and one of Johnson's earliest commissions). It's worth it, I promise.
*Philip Johnson would have celebrated his 111th birthday on July 8, 2017.
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. The public, nondenominational, spiral-shaped chapel in Thanks-Giving Square technically triangular, designed by architect Philip Johnson in downtown Dallas, Texas, 2014. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2014633400.
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