I happened to miss Philip Johnson’s birthday last week*, so I just couldn’t let another week pass without a nod to the spectacled provocateur that ruled architecture for more than a half a 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.
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 Philip 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 an awe-inspiring 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. Inspired by 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 large, 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 all religious symbols, Johnson created a serenely 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 post-modern urban landscapes, Johnson’s design (and intent) has come under debate as the needs of the surrounding neighborhood continue to change and evolve. Luckily, 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 a good article about another 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.
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, 2014633932.
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