27 October 2012

John Johansen

John Johansen, one of the last of the architects from the High Modern era, as he called it, died on Friday. We had occasion to hear him and to encounter him several times at the New Canaan Historical Society's Modern House Days.

In 2007 he and Jens Risom, the furniture designer and a New Canaan resident, both spoke at the Modern House Day symposium. They were both 91 at the time.

Jens, who during his talk asserted that "arcitecture is the most beautiful of all the arts," referred to Johansen as Jo. 

"I’m one month older than Jo," he said. "We meet each other and say, 'My God! Are you still alive?' "

I've compiled links to posts from our blog about Johansen and his houses:

Five Moderns, May 4, 2009

The Glass House [with an account of a Johansen talk at the 2004 New Canaan Modern House Day), January 26, 2005

Here's his obituary, from the Times.

Here are some notes I found in my journal, made around the time of the November 2007 Modern House Day, which is always preceded by a Friday evening cocktail party, where we chatted with Jens Risom:

"Johansen was also at the cocktail party, although I didn’t talk to him – couldn’t think of anything to say in particular. He has a thinning mane of white hair swept back and a well-trimmed white beard. He said that gropius was the apollian figure in modern architecture, while he learned more from breuer at drinking parties, so breuer was the "bacchalonian" figure. When he came of age the Ecole des Beaux Arts was fading away, no longer able to deal with the problems of the modern world, no longer had the spirit to stir men’s blood. At Harvard there was a fierce and joyous spirit, where they taught principles but not styles, a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling, a new way of design, and a new way of living. In new canaan they imparted this to a few of our first clients. Noyes was first – he represented the box. Breuer learned from breuer [sic – I don't know if that's a typo or if it's what Johansen said], Johnson learned from mies, Gores learned from Wright – his beautiful, beautiful house of his own still stands. Johansen found his way out of the box through symbolism, biomorphism, historicism and high technology. During early modern house days the houses weren’t finished and some leaked. They’d open up their own houses and exchange furniture with each other – for example, a Corbusier chair shown in a slide – to give interior respectability. He showed a slide of one of his structures and said that when two people passing by stopped to look at it, one asked what is it. The other said, I don’t know but let’s buy it and turn it into a house. johansen built 27 houses, 8 of which have been lost, as he put it. The reward is in the doing, the product doesn’t matter, I won already for having created it. And finally, a more forceful reference – forgive them, for they know not what they do." -- TA

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