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.
Lamster’s mesmerizing, authoritative, and often-astonishing study grapples with Johnson’s legacy in all its ambiguity ... Lamster depicts a man by turns enchanting and irritating, sublime and subpar, pioneering and derivative. Contradictions abound to the point of absurdity ... What does it mean that this man, of all people, became the leading architectural light of late-twentieth-century America? Johnson’s contradictions, Lamster argues, reveal something of the nation’s. Readers may come away with both contempt and admiration for the subject, a testament to Lamster’s masterful achievement.