Philip Johnson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1906. He attended Harvard College, focusing on classics and philosophy, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1927. After graduation, Johnson traveled extensively; during his travels in Europe between 1928 and 1930, he was introduced to Modern architecture. Johnson was impressed by the vision of the first generation of European Modern architects, including Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Walter Gropius (1883-1969), J.J.P. Oud (1890-1963), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969).
In 1930, Johnson became the first director of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The department was the first of its kind in the United States and Johnson used the position to exhibit Modern art and architecture. In 1932, the Department of Architecture launched a show titled "Modern Architecture: International Exhibition." The accompanying text written by Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903-1987), The International Style: Architecture Since 1922, continues to serve today as a seminal book on the period and a testament to the groundbreaking nature of the exhibition.
Johnson returned to Harvard in 1940 to attend the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He studied under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), receiving a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1943. Johnson's thesis project at Harvard was the design and construction of a house in Cambridge (Philip Johnson House, 1941-42), demonstrating his ambition.
After World War II, fellow architect and Harvard alum Eliot Noyes (1910-1977) encouraged Johnson to purchase property in New Canaan, Connecticut. Johnson bought a five-acre lot on Ponus Ridge Road and built the legendary Glass House (1945-49). Johnson used the Glass House as a weekend and summer retreat from his office and apartment in New York City, although later in his life it would become his year-round residence. Over time, the property expanded to 47 acres and Johnson designed several additional buildings and structures for the site, including the Brick House (1949), Lake Pavilion (1962), Painting Gallery (1965), Sculpture Gallery (1970), and Library (1980).
From 1946-1954, Johnson resumed the role of the Director of the Department of Architecture at MoMA. Throughout the remainder of his life, Johnson would maintain a relationship with the museum as a patron, trustee, curator, and architect. His patronage included the donation of over 2,000 works of art to MoMA.
As an associate of Mies van der Rohe during the 1950s, Johnson was engaged in the design of the Seagram Building (1954-58) in New York City, and designed the Four Seasons Restaurant for the building. He was a well-respected and prolific designer of houses; in New Canaan, his most well?known houses aside from the Glass House include the Hodgson House (1950-51, listed in the National Register of Historic Places), the Wiley House (1952-53), and the Boissonas House (1954-56). During his lifetime, Johnson designed a number of modern architectural landmarks, including the Crystal Cathedral/Garden Grove Church (1980) in Los Angeles, Houston's Trasco Tower/Williams Tower (1983), and the AT&T Building/Sony Plaza (1984) in New York City.
In 1986, Johnson donated the Glass House property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The property was retained as a life estate, allowing Johnson to live on the property until he died in 2005 at the age of 98.