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Volume 70, Issue 79, Thursday, January 27, 2005


Architect places design quality over originality

Cougar News Staff

Architect Philip Johnson often quoted his mentor, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: "It is better to be good than original."

Some critics would say that philosophy served Johnson well during his career -- perhaps never more so than when he designed UH's Architecture Building in the 1980s.

The building was based on Claude-Nicholas Ledoux's unbuilt 18th century House of Education. Both designs feature a cruciform shape, a mix of rectangular and arched windows and a columned rooftop cupola.

When Johnson presented his design to the University in 1982, it drew fire from students and faculty alike. Faculty criticized the proposal on academic grounds, while students took a more creative approach, creating a banner with a marked-out rendering of the building and a satirical model of Johnson's design with Xerox listed as the design consultant.

When college administrators defended the design, their praise was largely based on Johnson's reputation. 

"How it looked was somewhere way down on the list of priorities," Wood told The Daily Cougar in 1983, adding that the structure had a great deal of "(public relations) value."

One professor, John Zemanek, said the building was designed on a student's skill level, and students remained vocal throughout the building's construction and dedication. They even donned round, black-rimmed eyeglasses and heckled the similarly bespectacled Johnson during one of his speeches here.

Though the debate has died down in the past 20 years, Johnson freely admitted his design wasn't an original. In 2002, he wrote that the Architecture Building was "the only building in my career that I unashamedly copied from another architect.

"I changed a few little things along the way," he wrote.

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