<h1>on Architecture and related Media … </h1>

Philip Johnson

'The Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture'
a discursive taxonomy
Online since March 21st 2009
Last changes: 8th of May 2016

On the 7th of December 1954 Philip Johnson gave a two part lecture [informal talk to students II.) 0 ] at the School of Architectural Design, Harvard University:
'The Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture' and 'Taliesin West: An Appreciation'. II.) 1

The first part prompted controversy [but not due to his infamous remark on Frank Lloyd Wright, which I can't resist to quote… ]

» […] We have very fortunately the work of our spiritual fathers to build on. We hate them, of course, as all spiritual sons hate spiritual fathers, but we can’t ignore them, nor can we deny their greatness. The men, of course, that I refer to: Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Frank Lloyd Wright I should include – the greatest architect of the nineteenth century. […] « I.) 3 II.) 4

'Glass House' in New Canaan by Philip Johnson 1949, IN: 'Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture' by Robert Venturi, published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002 [published first in 1966]
VI.) Img. _01

41° 8' 32.62'' N, 73° 31' 44.38'' W

http://en.wikipedia.org/ []
http://z.about.com/ []
site plan http://www.greatbuildings.com/
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http://www.metropolismag.com/ 2

His commitment to the past [and his paragons] was preceded by an "attack" on [doctrines of] Modern Architecture, whose prominent advocate II.) 9 and successful protagonist he has been. Corresponding to "fallacies", Geoffrey Scott VIII.) 11 traced in ninetieth century architecture [namely: romantic, mechanical, ethical, biological misconceptions] IV.) 5 II.) 14 Philip Johnson lists 7 modern "crutches":

  1. The Crutch of History
    Historic precedence as vindication
  2. The Crutch of Pretty Drawing
    » […] the illusion that you are creating architecture while you're making pretty drawings. «
  3. The Crutch of Utility, of Usefulness
    Referring to John Stuart Mill
  4. The Crutch of Comfort
    » That's a habit that we come by, the same as utility. « [architecture relying on environmental controls to comfort its user. Probably motivated by the 'inappropriate' importance of infrastructure in architectural practice and exposed by the insight that 'comfort' to most users is not a physical merit but an aesthetic value.]
  5. The Crutch of Cheapness
    [Low] budget as an excuse
  6. The Crutch of Serving the Client
    » When do the client's demands permit you to shoot him, and when do you give in gracefully? «
  7. The Crutch of Structure
    » […] architecture has problems that Bucky Fuller has not faced, like how do you get in and out. «

'Wiley House' in New Canaan by Philip Johnson 1953, IN: 'Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture' by Robert Venturi, published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002 [published first in 1966]
VI.) Img. _02

41° 10' 44.85'' N, 73° 29' 40.51'' W


I'd like to add a few more crutches / auxiliary constructs / framing devices [ ~ conceptual tools IX.) 15 ]

  • Process / Methodology

    The perception, that only designs achieved / extracted by certain (theoretically sound) ways "of doing things" constitute architecture.

    Greg Lynn’s tea & coffee towers
    UNStudio [Ben van Berkel parametrically X.) 16 twisting the] Mercedes-Benz Museum
    and Dérive
  • Science [Fiction ]

    Very popular in the form of quantitative / statistical evaluation of "what is", extrapolated into the future in order to inform what could, what should and what will inevitably happen anyway.

    OMA: Point City / South City 1993
    MVRDV: Pig City 2001, Metacity Datatown 1998
  • Cutting Edge / Newness / Novelty

    Avoids (effectively) facing "semiotics" in architecture [formerly referred to as "architecture parlante"] by the constant invention of new - hence yet "empty signs".

    Foreign Office Architects: Yokohama International Port Terminal, Japan, 1995
    Daniel Libeskind: The Jewish Museum Berlin, 1999
  • Specificity

    "In particular" an antidote for "GENERIC" [with statistical connotations]
  • Complexity

    "Complexity [like Elvis] has left the building." Its current meaning out-dates [my] architectural experience.
    For me as an architect [regardless] LESS is more complex than MORE, which is SIMPLY more complicated. V.) 6

    Implying that the process of reduction in itself maximises the 'degree' of complexity, which is simply not the case. V.) 7 "Less" and "more" constitute mere sentiments, are aesthetic variables (like scarcity, abundance, etc.), we [architects] apply based on contradicting understandings:

    a) ("Simple <> Complicated") in contrast to "Complex";
    Where complexity is conceived as "non simple" and "non reducible", whereas intricacy can be scaled down to its simple atomistic state.

    b) Unlike German, the English language [!] allows for "Complex Intricacy" as well as for "Intricate Complexity".
    Thus suggesting: ("Complex < Intricate > Complicated") in contrast to "Simple" but also in contrast to "Plain Complexity" implying levels [classes] of complexity;

    c) ("Complex <> Simple") in contrast to "Complicated";
    Where [among natural phenomena] simplicity constitutes a rare and extreme condition of complexity, resembling somewhat Douglas Adams' improbability drive, resulting in "Spontaneous Massive Complexity Failures" every time simplicity emerges.
    » This was because, in these earlier times when the nature of complexity was less well understood, it was not appreciated that any matter that is infinitely complex will, by definition, appear almost simple. « [Modifying the original XI.) 17 to my purposes …]

    Complex matters can be represented [!] by the most blatantly simple (∞, †, ♥ ...) if one wants to.

    Is it a flaw when architects deal with complexity in symbolic terms, when architecture remains [essentially] representational?

    Complexity is a "non vivid metaphor" in [my] architectural practice - rather attributing to other fields: »complex geometry«, »complex game strategy«, »complex reality« etc. …

And finally three of my favourite constructs:

  • Context

    Meaning not just "SITE" but all conditions for architecture and in particular the architecture of such conditions. [Tschumi XII.) 18 ] For the context "No Context" does not exist at all.

    Conceiving architecture as a communicative SYSTEM one realizes:
    a) "No Context" = "No Meaning" [Venturi XIII.) 19 ]
    b) Hence "Meaningless" equals an impossible - as undesirable as incomprehensible - prerequisite in architecture.
    c) "No Meaning Yet" is altogether the aspired condition of NEWNESS, which might explain the enormous effort it takes to "communicate" [re-contextualize] "New Architecture" afield its inherent media means.
  • Consistency

    The prerequisite that every building / artwork establishes its own basic set of rules [axioms] by which it merits to be addressed. Like any SYSTEM it is then expected to comply with those rules without contradictions.
  • Appropriateness of Means

    Allows for 'aesthetics of restraint' as well as for 'outlandish opulence'.

    Peter Zumthor: Brother-Claus-Chapel, 2007
    Bruno Weber [since the '60s]

  • […]
    This "list", in terms of a discursive taxonomy, or controlled vocabulary, may of course be augmented infinitely, specifying all 'conceptual constructs' employed in architecture. Notably:

    TIME, SPACE, GENDER … [from Quatremère de Quincy to Arch+]

    and with regard to Philip Johnson:

    style, irony and taste II.) 14

All such concepts are equally useful and / or equally useless depending on one’s epoch. Timing is essential. Know when to promote the right metaphor! Phillip Johnson was the undisputed master of that skill. His » Architecture [truly] exits only in time. « II.) 12

Crutches / framing devices are tools to parse the complexity of "what is" in order to make decisions in view of "what should be".

» Question: How can a [conceptual] tool this simple solve complex matters?

Answer: The first question is not complexity but issues we want to improve. Then we can describe the difficulty of improvement due to the complexity of things. It is not necessarily important to reduce complexity as long as the method can deal with complexity as complexity. Simplicity lies on the procedure of operation rather than the subject itself. For instance pouring tea into a cup is highly complex as a system but it is not so difficult to do. «
VII.) 8




  1. IN: 'Architekturtheorie 20. Jahrhundert: Positionen, Programme, Manifeste' by Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, Ruth Hanisch, Ulrich Maximilian Schumann, Wolfgang Sonne, published by Hatje Cantz, 2004

    3 [page 196] Excerpt from the lecture 'The Seven Crutches of Modern Architecture' by Philip Johnson, at the School of Architectural Design, Havard University, on the 7th December 1954, published first in Perspecta. The Yale Architectural Journal, 3, 1955, pages 40-44 [periodical established 1952 with Johnson's endorsement] II.) 0 II.) 1
    Available online from http://www.arch.pitt.edu/
    and http://isites.harvard.edu/
  2. 'Philip Johnson: life and work' by Franz Schulze, published by University of Chicago Press, 1996 http://books.google.at/

    0 a [Details according to Schulze, pages 233, 434, 445]

    1 a [page 434] Note 222 » The title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to John Ruskin's famous book of 1849, 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture'. «

    14 a b c [page 234, Johnson's reference to Geoffrey Scott VIII.) 11 ]
    » Scott argued that a "mechanical fallacy" in architectural criticism was the wrongheaded identification of quality with functionalism. In turn, an "ethical fallacy" equated excellence, irrelevantly, with moral purpose, while the "romantic fallacy" idealized "the curious and the extreme" - anathema to a classicist like Philip - and the "biological fallacy" forced on the reading of architectural history a notion, taken from evolutionary theory, of the rise, peak, and fall of ages and species. For him [Geoffrey Scott], and for Philip [Johnson], the crucial element in creating and judging buildings was taste. And taste, like truth, was beyond measurement or proof. «
    Compare with Nana Pernod's evaluation: IV.) 5

    12 [page 221] » Architecture is surely not the design of space, certainly not the massing or organizing of volumes. These are auxiliary to the main point, which is the organization of procession. Architecture exits only in time. «
    From: 'Whence and Whither: The Processional Element in Architecture', Perspecta 9/10 (1965): 167-78; reprinted in Johnson; 'Writings', 150-55. [Details according to Franz Schulze [page 434 note 221]

    4 [page 222]
    » Late in life, he [Philip Johnson] claimed that this famous slighting identification of Wright […] had been conceived in a retaliatory frame of mind and passed around his circle of New York friends as early as 1932 or 1933. « III.) 10

    This confession refers to the famous dispute between Philip Johnson (+Henry-Russell Hitchcock) and Frank Lloyd Wright in the course of the 1932 Exhibition "Modern Architecture: International Exhibition" in the Museum of Modern Art - New York 1932, prepared by Philip Johnson, as the first director of the Department of Architecture at the MoMA.
    9 The influential book "The International Style: Architecture Since 1922", Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock compiled in the context of the exhibition coined the term 'International Style' and distinguished the work of modern European architects such as Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the United States.

    [page 83] » Between the time he [Frank Loyd Wight] was invited to participate and the the formal opening of the show, he threatened over and over to remove himself from it, agreeing to stay only when the curators persuaded 'Shelter' [magazine] to publish his essay "Of Thee I Sing". There, he visited more of his contempt on the International Style and its 'Geist der Kleinlichkeit' (spirit of paltriness), which he equated with "senility in the guise of invention". [… But Frank Lloyd Wright's] article had been published "with objectionable editorial comment under an objectionable pirated photograph of the damaged model of the House on the Mesa taken from an objectionable angle that best serves your objectionable propaganda." [Frank Lloyd Wright in a letter to Philip Johnson] «
    In detail : http://books.google.at/ [page 82]
    and also: http://books.google.at/ [page 45]

    [cf. page 81] Knud Lönberg-Holm also attacked the concept of style as featured and applied by the show. [Again in 'SHELTER' magazine (formerly 'T-SQUARE') April issue 1932. Hitchcock, Barr, George Howe, and Johnson served as associate editors.] http://books.google.at/
    On the dispute over [this] 'style' and Lönberg-Holm see: Structural Study Associates [German]

    For the relationship between Johnson and Wright [from Johnson's perspective] see: http://books.google.at/ [page 221] and: II.) 13

    13 a Johnson, like Wright, enjoyed public attention and knew how to exploit 'such a flaw' for our entertainment. [...] They both willingly provided 'buzz material' for decades to remember. Johnson certainly suspected such well-nourished anecdotes would outlast [at least his] architecture. Taking this into consideration a 'best of':

    » "Why, little Phil," he roared, his voice equal parts unguent and acid, "I thought you were dead! Are you still putting up all those little houses and leaving them out in the rain?" «
    [Wright adressing Johnson in public. For a slightly more harmless version sympathetic to Wright see: III.) 10 ]

    » "Philip: We are all monkeys less or more. I have always maintained that in front of the monkey house in the zoo was the best place to study human nature. You made yours a little more available for that purpose. That is all. Don't you feel just a little ashamed of yourself? F. Ll. W."
    Wright, note to Johnson, undated, probably 1950 «

    » When Wright was asked by Selden Rodman in the mid 1950s for his opinions of Philip's Glass House, he replied, "Is it Philip? And is it architecture?"
    [… Johnson's reaction:] "Isn't that wonderful […] Who else can say things like that - with such perfect spontaneity and phrasing that even the spiteful becomes lovable? Wonderful, wonderful … "
    Wright [and Johnson] quoted by Selden Rodman, "Frank Lloyd Wright (I). Conversations with Artists (New York, 1957), 50 [70] «

    [pages 223, 224, details are quoted according to Franz Schulze from page 434 notes 223, 224]
  3. 'Frank Lloyd Wright: a biography' by Meryle Secrest, published by University of Chicago Press, 1998 [published first 1992]

    10 a » Years later, referring to the all-glass house […] Wright joked, "Ah yes! Philip Johnson! You're the man who builds those little houses and then leaves them out in the rain." « [page 394] http://books.google.at/ [For a more aggravated version arousing compassion for Johnson see: II.) 13 ]
  4. IN: 'Wolkenkuckucksheim - Cloud-Cuckoo-Land - Vozdushnyi zamok' [6. Jg. , Issue 1/01: 'Architecture as Aesthetic Practice' (September 2001) []

    5 a b For Geoffrey Scott VIII.) 11 see: 'Angewandte Architekturästhetik - Untersuchungen an Hand des Werkes von Philip Johnson' by Nana Pernod http://www.tu-cottbus.de/ [in German] and Franz Schulze: II.) 14
  5. 6 For a) intricacy can be very appealing …
    and b) following a certain "tradition" this famous contradiction is being dealt with in punch lines. ["less is more", "less is a bore" VI.) 20 , "less is only more when more is no good", "more is more", "more is different" more or less …]
    and "more for less" [Slavoj Žižek on Architecture and Aesthetics]

    7 Compare to contemporary informational [computational] notions of complexity: Computational complexity theory
    Kolmogorov complexity
    Information geometry
    And an architectural consideration of that metaphor: 'Complexity: Design Strategy and World View (Context Architecture)' by Andrea Gleiniger and Georg Vrachliotis (Editors), published by Birkhäuser, 2008
    and VI.)
  6. 'Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture' by Robert Venturi, published by Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002 [published first 1966, implying the findings of its time] http://books.google.com/

    Img. _01 [page 17] 'Glass House' in New Canaan 1949
    Img. _02 [page 17] 'Wiley House' in New Canaan 1953, both by Philip Johnson

    20 » […] But even here [Wiley House] the building becomes a diagram of an oversimplified program of living - an abstract theory of either - or. Where simplicity cannot work, simpleness results. Blatant simplification means bland architecture. Less is a bore. « [approx. 1962, page 17]

    21 » Gestalt psychology maintains that context contributes meaning to a part and change in context causes change in meaning. The architect thereby, through the organization of parts, creates meaningful contexts for them within the whole. Through unconventional organization of conventional parts he is able to create new meanings within the whole. If he uses convention unconventionally, if he organizes familiar things in an unfamiliar way, he is changing their contexts, and he can use even the cliché to gain fresh effect. « [page 43]

    22 » For example, Fallingwater is incomplete without its context - it is a fragment of its natural setting which forms the greater whole. Away from its setting it would have no meaning. « [page 96]
  7. CHORA, IN: “urbangallery user manual FAQ" [offline]

    8 Takuro Hoshino, London 2000
  8. 11 a b Johnson carries to: 'The Architecture of Humanism, A Study in the History of Taste', by Geoffrey Scott, published by Constable & Co Ltd in 1914 II.) 14 IV.) 5 http://books.google.at/
  9. 15 [framing: social sciences] [framing device: narrative] Here both … distinguished from models.

    Jorge Luis Borges ['Chinese Encyclopedia']
    Umberto Eco ['The Infinity of Lists']
  10. IN: 'xia intelligente architektur' magazine for architecture and technology, issue 54 January - March 2006 http://xia-online.de/

    16 'Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart' by UN Studio, van Berkel & Bos, pages 27 to 39
    » […] In order to be able to establish limit values of its practicability, the entire geometry of the building was constructed as a parametric design-model in collaboration with Arnold Walz « [page 32, German, translated by me]
    » […] In Zusammenarbeit mit Arnold Walz wurde die gesamte Geometrie des Gebäudes als parametrisches Entwurfsmodell aufgebaut, um die Grenzwerte der Umsetzbarkeit ermitteln zu können. « [page 32]

    on diagrams
  11. 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams 1978 - 2001
    'Life, the Universe and Everything' http://books.google.com/
    Broadcast in September 2004 on BBC Radio 4 [and online] as 'The Tertiary Phase'

    17 » [ …] built in the very earliest days of Improbability Physics, long before this difficult and cussed branch of knowledge was fully, or at all, understood.
    The designers and engineers decided, in their innocence, to build a prototype Improbability Field [ …] They did not realize that because of the quasi-reciprocal and circular nature of all Improbability calculations, anything that was Infinitely Improbable was actually very likely to happen almost immediately.
    The Starship Titanic […] when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message - an SOS - before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure. «
    [Chapter 12]
  12. IN: 'Architecture and Disjunction' by Bernard Tschumi published by MIT Press, paperback edition 1996, published first 1994
    http://books.google.com/ http://www.books-by-isbn.com/

    'Six Concepts' [Defamiliarization, Shock, De-structuring, Superimposition, Crossprogramming, Events] » Delivered as a University Lecture at Columbia University in February 1991 « [page 227] PDF from [404] 2

    18 » […] Architecture is not about the conditions of design, but about the design of conditions that will dislocate the most traditional and regressive aspects of our society and simultaneously reorganize these elements in the most liberating way, where our experience becomes the experience of events organized and strategized through architecture. […] « ['Concept VI: Events: The Turning Point']
  13. IN: 'Iconography and Electronics Upon a Generic Architecture: A View from the Drafting Room' by Robert Venturi, published by MIT Press, 1998 [published first 1996]
    http://books.google.com/ http://mitpress.mit.edu/

    'Context in Architectural Composition: M.F.A. Thesis, Princeton University' written 1950 by Robert Venturi

    19 » The thesis of the problem in short is that its setting gives a building expression; its context is what gives a building its meaning. And consequently change in context causes change in meaning. « [page 335, Introduction, Content] see also VI.) 21 VI.) 22





more Bikini Hypotheses


File Log

  • This "remark" evolved from an annotation on Frank Lloyd Wright, thus the emphasis in many references …
  • There is a Spanish summary [posted 2. January 2011]
  • [Even] More resources have been added in summer 2011.
<h3>&copy; Franz Sdoutz, January 2012</h3>

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