Bracket any two figures together and the eye naturally hunts for similarities – and tends to find them. Still, there are some telling parallels between the American architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson. Both men lived into their nineties and never stopped talking, which makes them appealing subjects for biography. Both courted scandal, early failure and obscurity, but both also had a talent for reinvention that rescued them. And then, in the other column, there are the differences, not least aesthetic: Wright sought a homespun, naturalistic American idiom while Johnson was a zealous prophet of the icy wind from Europe, international modernism. Their relationship, the subject of this study by Hugh Howard, was destined to be antagonistic.
In the early years of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright rose to prominence with a series of distinctive ‘Prairie Style’ houses and inventive office buildings that hinted at an authentic American architectural style very different to the overripe Beaux-Arts opulence that dominated the era. But this promise was followed