The Washington Post's art & architecture critic Philip Kennicott has reviewed a new dual biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, Architecture's Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson.
They were very different personalities, with radically different approaches to the craft they pursued. Wright was an idealist, steeped in a romantic rhetoric of Art and Democracy, American to his core, intent on reforming the world through an organic architecture that was rooted to place, embedded in the natural world, horizontal in form, and pre-industrial in its rich, handcrafted detail. Johnson was an opportunist, a dilettante and a showman, better at finessing the social, bureaucratic and economic obstacles to building than at actual design. Wright had ideas and made them manifest; Johnson played with ideas and made them sexy. Between them, they shepherded American architecture through the age of muscular modernism, with its utopian aspirations in the real world, to the age of discourse, where what architects say about their work often matters as much as the work itself.
Johnson played an key role in the latter half of Wright's career: he organized an exhibit of modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York -- Wright needed a place in the exhibition to revitalize his flaging career and remind the art world of his central role in the previous 50 years of architecture. Johnson needed Wright's participation to cement his role as an intellectual hub of contemporary architecture.
Kennicott gives the book an excellent review: it's entertaining, and offers an important perspective on the sweep of Twentieth Century architecture and examines the fascinating contrast between two very different creators. Kennicott finds some minor flaws in the book -- inevitable given the challenges of detailing the parallel lives of two divergent personalities.