The Century Club in New York recently hosted a memorial celebration of the life of the late architect John M. Johansen organized by his daughter, Deborah Johansen Harris, and son, architect Christen Johansen. Christen, who collaborated with his father on later renovations and additions to various projects, read a touching tribute to Johansen that recalled his series of fast British sports cars and his ability to do "a handstand from a seated position in a lawn chair, or holding himself horizontally from a lamppost when the opportunity arose." He remembered that John delighted guests to the New Canaan house "by setting his martini down on the window sill and, mid-conversation, vaulting out the window to the lawn below, reappearing moments later through the front door." Christen Johansen finished by reading a letter from Harry Cobb a fellow Academician of Johansen's at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Cobb called Johansen "our most audacious and passionately dedicated Futurist" and remembered his first visit to his Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City as "a transformative experience, beguiled as I was by the colorful cacophony of its playfully juxtaposed forms—forms that boldly flaunted the ambiguity, indeed the indeterminacy of their meaning and the values." It made him, Cobb wrote, "want to know the author of this audacious poke in the eye of convention and understand what made him tick." Then when Cobb accepted the chairmanship of architecture at Harvard in 1980 Johansen invited him to join him and Paul Rudolph to several working lunches to help pave his way into the academic world. Johansen's warmth, hospitality, and sparkling intellect were recalled by a series of John's friends and colleagues including his daughter Deborah, Peggotty Gilson, former business partner Ashok Bhavani, Dr. Shelly Brown, and Michael Webb who wore a colorful Mummers T-shirt—a first for the Century Club. The audience of 130 people included Deborah Berke, Michael Sorkin, Joan Davidson, Tom Hanrahan, Toshiko Mori and James Carpenter, James Polshek, Richard Olcott and Duncan Hazard all ended up a Century Club bar to celebrate as John would have wanted—with strong martinis. Those sending remembrances included Richard Rogers, Frank Gehry and Gunnar Birkerts. The elderly Johansen was "a romantic in many ways, but he was also a realist, and he recognized that struggle and pain were part of life, and that the personal and professional paths he chose offered reward and suffering. It is a testament to his resilience and energy that he remained optimistic and engaged through it all."
Posts tagged with "John M. Johansen":
There is some good news coming out of Oklahoma City where the effort to save the late John Johansen's iconic 1970 Mummers Theater has taken a positive—if tentative step—towards preservation. AN last wrote about the theater on May, 11, 2012 when a recent flood in the building seemed to doom an effort by a local group to purchase the facility and turn it into a downtown children's museum. We've kept up with the preservation effort periodically over the past year and always heard that its was a hopeless cause and would soon be destroyed and replaced by a new building. But the building which Johansen himself said "might be taken visually as utter chaos" has a compelling joy in its elevation and plan that makes it unique and certainly the most important structure in Oklahama City. Though it seems to be unloved by many in the local community who would rather see it demolished, Mummers Theater fortunately also has its supporters who want to see it saved and they are taking steps to free it from the wreckers ball. Just this week the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office voted unanimously to forward the building to the National Park Service (NPS) for designation as a national monument. Though the owner of the propert,y The Oklahoma Community Foundation, has objected to the listing, its still a positive step for this important building. A designation by the NPS would not in itself offer protection for the building but would be a sign that it has value and merit. So the fate of the building which Johansen said "gives the impression of something in-process" appears to be still that in process. Stay tuned.
John Johansen's iconic Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City may be demolished in the next year. Built with a $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation, the so called "Brutalist" building was closed in 2010 due to flooding and a local Oklahoma City group has been trying to purchase it for a downtown children's museum. When the building flooded, the theater moved and ownership of the property was transferred to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation who been negotiating with the museum group to transfer ownership to them. But negotiations have broken down over a request by the Childrens Museum to pay the foundation $25,000 to hold a right of first refusal on any sale of the property for one year. It's a sad day for this great building but the foundation seems determined to do away with it and the estimated cost of $30 million is more than the museum group can raise in a year. Meanwhile Johansen, who was one of our most important architects in the 1960s and 1970s and at 96 lives in Cape Cod, may witness yet another one of his buildings falling to a wrecking ball. His 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore is facing similar fate as preservationists and developers fight over the building. Mechanics Theater was denied landmark status in 2007 and its fate may already be sealed.
Amidst office towers in the heart of Oklahoma City sits an incongruous ensemble of multicolored boxes, tubes, concrete skywalks, and corrugated metal painted in shades of red, blue, orange, and chartreuse green. One cantilevered rectangle precariously perches at the edge of a swooping concrete form whose interior holds a theater in the round, once home to the Mummers Theater troupe. Architect John M. Johansen, of the so-called “Harvard Five,” completed the project for the Mummers in 1970, but the troupe folded just one year later. The building would go through several incarnations as a theater/arts center called Stage Center until a 2010 flood put it out of commission. Vandalism and decay ensued, and now the AIA Central Oklahoma chapter has put out an RFP for the renovation, hoping to spur design-world interest in their Save Stage Center Campaign. One group, organized by Tracy Zeeck with Rees Architects, envisions a children's museum modeled with a play café, like the soon-to-close Moomah in TriBeCa. The design would need little alteration to capture the imagination of kids. “I grew up here and I remember it as kinetic; I thought it moved,” said Zeeck. She added that the group got Johansen’s blessing to restore the space for kids and support from the Phoenix Children's Museum. There’s a concern that the rapid development might threaten the building. Directly across the street is the Picard Chilton- designed Devon Energy tower to be completed in 2012. The 50-story glass-clad tower dwarfs the comparatively quaint arts complex. “I think as a city we tear ourselves down to build ourselves up,” said Zeeck. “I just want my son to share the same memories of the place that I have.” Deadlines for the proposals are due to the AIA Central Oklahoma Chapter by February 29.