Architecture’s Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson

By Hugh Howard

Bloomsbury Press

Opposites attract – sometimes – which is but one pillar holding up the estimable edifice of historian Hugh Howard’s double biography of two towering architectural presences. Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson loomed over American architecture for most of the previ­ous century, usually from opposing positions from which they fired volleys of disdain at each other’s creations and philosophies. Opportunist Johnson versus idealist Wright was a long-running fixture that spilled into acri­mony but eventually turned into a grudging admiration of sorts. Both were charismatic and brutally direct; both became synonymous with the houses and skyscrapers they built and the landscapes they transformed. They were the architectural equi­valent of those yin-yang double acts that emerge in art or sport and, ventures Howard neatly: “Like colliding atomic particles, Johnson and Wright altered each other’s paths.” The real winner in their skirmish-and-ceasefire symbiosis was their shared discipline, Johnson’s post-modernism and Wright’s “organic” crea­tions – featuring buildings designed to be in har­mony with the environment – keeping American architecture relevant despite the advent of the Europeans. Howard’s two-for-one profile of this idiosyncratic pair is consistently engaging.