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9 Ash Street

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Thesis House
1941, Philip Johnson. 9 Ash St.

The first executed project by one of the dominant American architects of the twentieth century, 9 Ash Street was designed by Philip Johnson for a required course on construction, and served as his residence while he was a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Nearly a decade before, as curator of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he organized with Henry-Russell Hitchcock the influential exhibition on International Style modernism, an ideology he explored in this house, which is much influenced by the work of Mies van der Rohe. Behind the ten-foot-high perimeter wall, Johnson devoted two-thirds of the site to garden. The remaining third he divided into sleeping, utility, and social areas separated from the garden by a wall of glass under a flat roof. Because of material restrictions in place during World War II, Johnson made extensive use of plywood, including the striated Weldtex panels of the exterior. After Johnson successfully petitioned the architecture department to accepted the project as his graduate thesis, it became known as the "thesis house" and, eventually, the "Philip Johnson Thesis House." Johnson left Cambridge in 1943, when he was drafted into the military; he sold the house in 1945. It remained in private hands until Harvard acquired it in 2010. In 2016, the university finished a complete historic restoration of the house, which the GSD continues to use as an event space. In December 2020, GSD dean Sarah Whiting announced the removal of Johnson's name from the house, noting that the architect's "strenuous support of white supremacy [has] absolutely no place in design." Though the architect's involvement with the Nazi party in the 1930s had been widely known since the 1980s, discussions of systemic racism in all aspects of American society in 2020 prompted a reckoning with Johnson's fascist activites in Germany and in the United States.   

References

Hickman, Matt. “Harvard will remove Philip Johnson’s name from Cambridge home that he designed as graduate student.” The Architect’s Newspaper, December 8, 2020.

“House in Cambridge, Mass, Philip Johnson, Architect, S. Clements Horsley, Associate.” Architectural Forum 79 no. 6 (December 1943): 89-93.

Lamster, Mark. The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century. New York: Little Brown, 2018.

 

Writing Credits

Author: 
Keith N. Morgan
Updated By: 
Gabrielle Esperdy
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Citation

Keith N. Morgan, "9 Ash Street", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/MA-01-BS2.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 348-348.

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