Fred A. Bernstein

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What next, the Grill Room?

The state of Philip Johnson's buildings

Published in The New York Times, March 27, 2005

What Next, the Grill Room?


Published: March 27, 2005

Philip Johnson, who died in January, wielded so much power that even when he was in his 90's no young architect - and compared to Johnson, all architects were young - would risk antagonizing him by altering one of his buildings. (Yoshio Taniguchi was chosen to renovate the Museum of Modern Art in part because his scheme included restoring the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, designed by Johnson in 1953.) But with Johnson gone, and many of his buildings approaching the half-century mark, some of them may not receive the same treatment as the sculpture garden:

The NEW YORK STATE PAVILION, in Queens at the 1964 World's Fair site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Johnson liked the circular building so much that he chose it for the cover of his enormous 2002 monograph, "The Architecture of Philip Johnson," but it's been rotting away for decades. Last year the city's parks department put out a request for expressions of interest, to find a developer willing to restore and reuse the building. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said that the department had received two proposals, but "both lacked financial viability." That increases the likelihood that the pavilion, which many deem unsafe, will be demolished.

Johnson's WATER GARDENS, a suite of fountains cut into a plaza in Fort Worth, Tex. Considered one of his masterpieces, it is about to undergo a $14 million renovation that will alter its appearance. Four people drowned at the gardens last year. Now officials are planning to decrease the depth of one of Johnson's pools and add railings and concrete walls. They are also planning to add a memorial to the victims.

KNESES TIFERETH ISRAEL synagogue, in Port Chester, N.Y. Johnson had insisted the building not be altered without his approval. The congregation is now considering undertaking badly needed renovations. The sweeping, double-height interior could become a series of more practical - but less grand - spaces.