The award-winning architectural critic and biographer considers the life and work of one of the last century's most influential and controversial architectural masters, who, for a time, also happened to be a fascist and Nazi sympathizer.
Lamster’s book captures what made Johnson such an out-sized force in the world of 20th century American architecture ... Perhaps what is most fascinating about Lamster’s book is the way he grounds these boarder cultural and philosophic ideas in the life of man whose story is rife with contradictions and conflict. When you get to the end of The Man in the Glass House, you are left with a feeling that some of these very notions of what it means to build a good city—to create a great building, to exert a sense of dominance through architecture—are inextricable from the way Johnson’s own life dabbled in radical—and often racist—political and cultural ideas (perhaps the most significant historical contribution in Lamster’s book is its exposition of the extent of Johnson’s sympathetic dealings with the Nazis, and New York Magazinetoday published an excerpt from the book that explores that very thing) ... read Lamster’s book. In it is contained a surprising story of an incredible, if incorrigible, man who shaped the America we live in today—and by extension, shaped Dallas too.
Lamster’s new biography, The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century, reads like an Ayn Rand plot rewritten by Henry James ... Lamster...unequivocally condemns Johnson not just for sympathizing with the Nazis, but actively providing them with material support in the 1930s ... Lamster treats this biographical problem in a nuanced way. No one thinks a former Nazi sympathizer’s building morally corrupts all who gaze upon it or pass through it. No one seriously thinks we should tear down the landmark Seagram Building Johnson built in the 1950s with Mies van der Rohe, or demolish the Glass House. Lamster, however, pays careful attention to how aspects of buildings throughout Johnson’s career start to look disturbing in light of what he once believed: the 'authoritarian pomp' of the New York State Theater, the bunker-like art gallery on the Glass House estate, a possible citation of a pogrom-ruined village as the inspiration for that house’s central chimney ... It is as enjoyable and informative to read Lamster’s descriptions of the buildings he loves as it is of those he hates.
...stimulating and lively ... the reality of Johnson...is that the ... qualities that make him, and this book, fascinating are his nimble intelligence, his restlessness, his energy, his anxieties, his ambitions and his passions, all of which were channeled into the making of a few pieces of architecture that will stand the test of time, and many others that will not ... Lamster’s timing is excellent: He has written the story of Philip Johnson for the age of Donald Trump, and it makes us see a side of Johnson that is, at the very least, sobering. Johnson, like Trump, made himself impossible to ignore. Lamster’s most important contribution may be to show us that, however electrifying the ability to command the spotlight may be, it does not confer the lasting qualities of greatness.