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"I can't stand truth," says Philip Johnson. "It gets so boring, you know, like social responsibility." No doubt Robert Stern, who recently won the contest to design the George W Bush Presidential Library, would agree. The Philip Johnson Tapes compiles Stern's interviews with Johnson in the mid-1980s, and features many blasts at the concepts of truth and responsibility, in a manner which may have seemed witty and recherché for a few months in the 1970s, but has long become tediously conformist.
The interviews make clear that whether modernist or postmodernist, Nazi or "apolitical", Johnson's allegiances were similar throughout his career. What connects the oh-so-zany designer of the AT&T tower to the cold minimalist of the Glass House is disdain for the notion of architecture as a functional, social entity. His Nazi activism in the 1930s and his 1980s neoconservatism are connected by a blithe elitism. What is rather astonishing in this book is the story, related by Johnson with some surprise at his own chutzpah, of how he managed to change architectural history at least twice without the prerequisite of talent as a designer or thinker.