clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Philip Johnson, architect behind famed Boston Public Library addition, might have been Nazi spy: Book

Giant of modern architecture died in 2005

The interior of the Johnson Building at the Boston Public Library. The walls are red. There is a dome shaped window. There are many tables and chairs.
The Johnson Building was renovated earlier this decade.
UIG via Getty Images

Philip Johnson, a giant of modern American architecture whose famed works include a celebrated 1972 addition to the Boston Public Library known colloquially as the Johnson Building, may have been a Nazi spy in the late 1930s.

That is according to a new biography from Mark Lamster called The Man in the Glass House. New York magazine recently ran an excerpt from the book, which paints Johnson at best as a Nazi sympathizer actively involved in varnishing the Third Reich’s reputation in the United States in the years leading up to World War II—and at worst as a spy for Hitler’s regime.

This was, of course, decades before Johnson became involved in the Boston Public Library’s expansion beyond its famed Beaux Arts home in Copley Square.

Johnson, who died in 2005 at age 98 after a distinguished career that included a curator position at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, expressed remorse for his sympathy for Hitler et al pre-World War II, though he never acknowledged the apparent extent of his work on behalf of the Nazis. From Lamister’s book:

A more plausible scenario is that Johnson was exchanging information on the activities, politics, and membership of American fascist circles and discussing the means by which the Germans might disseminate their propaganda. According to records captured after the war, the Nazi diplomats were specifically interested in obtaining mailing lists and names of individuals who might be sympathetic to their cause. Johnson was in a position to deliver precisely that type of material. Indeed, he had been keeping confidential lists of would-be supporters since April 1934, when he instructed his private secretary, Ruth Merrill, to take names at the first fascist gathering at the duplex apartment he shared in New York with his sister.