Question 7: Throughout my search for information, articles about Philip Johnson have shown up. Many call him the most influential architect for the LGBT community. What are your thoughts on this?

“I think there is a place to celebrate Philip Johnson, but I do not want him to be the face of LGBTQ architecture.  As a Jewish architect, I cannot celebrate his association with American fascism and the Nazi party, as a person of conscious I cannot celebrate his exclusion of Black Architects in his curatorial role at MoMA, and as human living in the 21st century facing the impact of global climate change I cannot celebrate a designer whose work ignored the realities of local climate needs.”

Welcome to the can of worms this question opened, although that is a very measured response versus:

“Excuse my language but Philip was a Fucking Nazi!! I believe he had immense influence, yes, but I don’t want his name to be the first thing out of anyone’s mouth when they talk about the LGBT community in architecture.”

But who else can you name?

Ten years ago, queer visibility in architecture wasn’t. Ten years ago, if you were searching for a gay architect, logically Philip Johnson would show up. He came out very publicly in 1993 and appeared on the cover of Out magazine in 1996. All conveniently at the end of his career, although his queerness was an open secret.

And ten years ago, when gay clients in Dallas were looking for a gay architect, Google only produced two results – Johnson and The Big Gay Architect. Queer architects didn’t make themselves visible at the time and certainly didn’t market themselves as such. For Johnson to appear as the most influential architect for the LGBT community wouldn’t be a surprise. Who else was showing up to claim that crown?

In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Madame Olenska pierces the veil of influence and power held by the van der Luydens by commenting that their power and influence come from presenting themselves, as the heads of old New York society, so rarely in public.

Was the perception of Johnson being influential solely because he was the rare, openly gay architect? Other respondents were quick to point out that yes, there are other more influential queer architects. Why should he be the only one recognized or the one speaking for the queer community?

“Ah? Really? There are so many more queer architects out there that were alive before/during Johnson’s time.”

“He’s just one! How about Paul Rudolph, Charles Moore, Alexander Gorlin, Matthias Hollwich, Charles Renfro, Dennis Wedlick, Preston Scott Cohen, Horace Gifford, and Harry Bates?”

Are we the only ones who noticed that list included only cisgender white men? Most likely professionally closeted?

Queer identity is not often shared when talking about an architect’s work or practice. That queerness is kept at arm’s length from architectural discourse, in academia, and in studio settings. We all had to take architecture history courses. So who is deciding on the who and the what when teaching about architecture and architects?

Why is academia happy to gloss over identity when discussing queer architects? Most of us know about Frank Lloyd Wright’s somewhat salacious personal life. What about Paul Rudolph? Or Bruce Goff? Or Eleanor Raymond? Are we to believe their queerness – or their having to hide it – had no impact on who they were and their ability to practice?

“I’m wary on not telling the full story about our architect role models. I’d rather see us uplift more marginalized voices.”

In the ten years since this question was first posed, we’ve seen a gradual build to recognition of queer architects. For us, so much of that has happened in the last five. Even closer to home? The last year. Having Out in Architecture finally publish. Having a collection of queer stories. Having information from other queer architects in print. For us that’s part of the uplifting of marginalized voices mentioned above, and hopefully not the only volume of stories to be shared.

Other writers, other publications, other websites have all begun focusing on queer voices in architecture as well. Madame Architect has published multiple stories elevating the stories of queer female architects, both past and present. Architect featured Out in Architecture contributor and non-binary architect A.L. Hu. Even Architectural Digest highlighted queer voices in the profession.

We are somewhat amazed – perhaps even surprised – that as we reach the end of this series, that from the first question about challenges to this last question about Philip Johnson, queer visibility has played a part. Is that the underlying theme? That as queer architects ourselves, we have lacked visibly queer architects to refer to for inspiration and guidance.

We did find it interesting the number of people who responded that had no idea who Philip Johnson was. Maybe that’s a good sign that he isn’t the most influential architect for the queer community. Maybe that we are looking beyond icons to find the voices that speak to us. Maybe that we at some point will be the ones others look to when talking about what being queer in architecture means.

We encourage you to Google “gay architects” and go down that rabbit hole of links. You will find far more than just Philip Johnson. More than just us. And be sure to catch the podcast where we will talk about what this experience has meant for us as we work to increase the visibility of queer architects.

In the meantime, look at some of the articles below to discover other queer architects that might provide some influence as you move forward in your own careers.