case western reserve university



Remembering Philip Johnson

Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson (center) at Case for the dedication
of the Turning Point Garden - April 27, 2001

Philip Johnson built many world-famous buildings during his life, including the AT&T headquarters in New York City and the Crystal Cathedral in California. But he is perhaps best known on the Case Western Reserve University campus as creator of the Turning Point sculpture and garden, a group of five sculptures located in the looming shadows of the Peter B. Lewis Building, just west of Guilford House and north of the Mather Dance Center. The garden was completed in 1996 and dedicated on the Case campus in 1997.

Johnson died January 25 at the age of 98 at his Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.

His sculptures also inspired the name of Case’s Student Turning Point Society, a select group of undergraduate leaders committed to promoting the spirit of the university and dedicated to the ideal that students are responsible for leaving the university a better place than they found it. The Student Turning Point Society also has the distinction of being able to offer its members networking opportunities with friends and alumni of the university. This type of interaction with intergenerational constituents has provided unique exposure for students.

Born in Cleveland in 1906, Johnson became one of architecture’s most potent forces in the 20th century. Before designing his first building at age 36, Johnson had been a client, critic, author, historian and a museum director – but never an architect. In 1949, after a number of years as the Museum of Modern Art’s first director of the Architecture Department, Johnson designed a residence for himself in New Canaan, Conn., for his master’s degree thesis, the now famous Glass House.

By the fifties, Johnson was revising his earlier views, culminating with a building that proved to be one of the most controversial of his career – the AT&T headquarters in New York with its so-called “Chippendale” top. His list of projects include: International Place in Boston; Tycon Towers in Vienna, Va.; Momentum Place in Dallas; 53rd at Third in New York; NCNB Center in Houston; PPG in Pittsburgh; 101 California in San Francisco; the Century Center in South Bend, Ind.; and the Crystal Cathedral in California.

Turning Point
Johnson's Turning Point Sculpture

For Johnson, after a half-century of renown as one of the world’s most important architects, the Turning Point commission from Case in 1996 was his first-ever foray into pure sculpture – a turning point in his own career at age 90. The idea was to mark with a significant piece of work of public art the place where the campus’ internal pedestrian spine changed direction – from north to northeast – as it reached Bellflower Road.

But this notion of “turning point” came to have richer symbolism. For Harvey Buchanan, professor emeritus of humanities and art history, it symbolized not just an axis in a ceremonial path and a change in Philip Johnson’s career, but a shift in the university’s attitude about itself as a diverse but unified institution creatively looking to the future.

At a dedication ceremony of the entire Turning Point sculpture garden in 2001, Johnson said, “This is an enormous kick of pleasure for me. This is the most important statement in art that I’ve ever been able to make. I’m just delighted with the results. It was a lot of work for all of us, but now it’s done and all you can do is crow – which is not very dignified.” Then he laughed. “I’m ninety-five. To have fun is the only dream I have in life,” he said at the time.


More on Philip Johnson and Case
Sculpture Sculpture Everywhere: 2001 Case Magazine Article