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Johnson unveils project at 95th gala.

Philip Johnson celebrated his 95th birthday at the Four Seasons restaurant last week. Since Johnson designed the restaurant and the building it occupies, it was a fitting venue for the soiree.

For a man who had outlived everyone in the room -- or the building, for that matter -- the excitement seemed to energize rather than exhaust him. Johnson basked in the limelight amidst flashbulbs and a steady stream of broadcast crews who fixed their cameras on the Dean of American architecture from all points of the compass.

Print journalists queued up to speak with Johnson as he sat before a large square fountain as others, cradling wine glasses and highballs, gawked from the elevated cocktail patio across the room. He smiled the entire time, seated alone at a large round table in the center of the room.

The party was also a decisive opportunity for Johnson and a development team to promote their embattled downtown project -- "The Seasons", a highly unconventional residential design that has been called a "habitable sculpture" by The New York Times's architecture critic. It is resembled a Cubist sculpture with multi-dimensional sides and double-hung windows.

The project has run up against community opposition in recent months, making its future -- at this Spring Street site, at least -- uncertain.

That hasn't dampened Johnson's spirits, however.

"It will be built. Somewhere," said Johnson prior to the luncheon.

Small wooden replicas of the building were featured on every table in the dining room while the largest model -- eight feet tall -- stood in the center of the fountain. The models apparently caught the fancy of more than one guest as a public announcement was made to the effect that each one was "numbered" and not to be taken from the restaurant.

The Manhattan building would be part of a series of similar residential projects that, according to the developer, will be built in Italy, Tokyo, South Beach and Los Angeles. Johnson plans to live inside the Manhattan building yet not in the penthouse.

"I will live somewhere in the middle of this building," he mused prior to the lunch.

David Childs of SOM spoke briefly to the crowd once the cocktail reception was over. called Johnson a guiding path" and credited him for his "spirit and enthusiasm."

George Campbell, the president of Cooper-Union spoke next by awarding Johnson a citation for his lifetime achievement as an architect. Incidentally, Cooper-Union will establish an outpost on the retail level of the "Seasons" building where artwork will be exhibited.

The next speech was given by Nino Vendome of the Vendome Group, whose group is relatively new to the business but sure to become known quickly thanks to their high-profile architect.

"We want this, building to stand for two things. The man himself -- Philip Johnson -- and the freedom of expression," said Vendome, who wore an electric blue suit at the affair.

Vendome thanked Johnson "for being the artist that you are," and closed his remarks by wishing the nonagenarian a happy birthday.

Johns on then addressed the crowd, saying "architects are more important than they think they are," and thanking the developer of "The Seasons" project, Nino Vendome.

"Nino is the best guy that I have ever worked with," said Johnson. Vendome, standing to Johnson's left, grinned expansively the whole time.

"I'm alive because of Nino Vendome, who feels that this building is a work of sculpture," said Johnson.

At the end of lunch, a chocolate velvet cake -- Philip Johnson's favorite -- was wheeled over to his table. As it moved towards his table, it looked as if the cake were in flames, there were so many candles.

And the 96 candles -- one extra for luck -- generated so much heat that the centerpiece melted.

With some help from the Vendome brothers and his partner Alan Ritchie, Johnson blew out all 96 candles.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 18, 2001
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