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COME HERE ARCHITEKT Curated by Vess Ruhtenberg and Jeremy Efroymson Made possible by The Tracy L Haddad Foundation and the Efroymson Family Fund, a CICF Fund Assistance in procuring information not already in the Ruhtenberg family collection: Miroslav Ambrose, Thorsten Critzmann, Elaine Freed, David Hanks, Mark Lamster and Connie Zeigler Design of the catalog: Emily Watkins Photography of the exhibition: Jeffrey Bond Special advice and extraordinary effort: Brandon Judkins, Donna Wahlfleur, and Jennifer Briggs Installation and fabrication: Brose Partington and Brad Dilger Special thanks to the Graham Foundation for their support, and also the J.P . Getty Research Library, L.A., and the department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, N.Y.C., for generously allowing access to Philip Johnson’s correspondence. INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (IMOCA) Executive Director: Shauta Marsh Board of Directors: Brandon Judkins: President Director of Programs, Indiana Humanities Council Jennifer Boehm: Vice President IUPUI Director of Community and Government Relations Deb Borchelt: Treasurer Co-owner Bazbeaux Pizza and B’s Po Boy Tom Vriesma: Secretary Owner/Principal of Design Studio Vriesman Tracy Haddad Indianapolis Public Library Foundation Board/ Haddad Foundation Board/Arizona 5 Arts Circle Board Michael Halstead Halstead Architects Mark Ruschman Chief Curator of Fine Art, Indiana State Museum Gloria Mallah Logistics Manager, Publicis Jean Easter Easter Conservation Services Wayne Zink Endangered Species Chocolates Tom Battista Owner of Fletcher Place Investments, LLC and East End Property LLC All our programs and exhibitions are supported by The Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Artistic Expression Grant), The Efroymson Family Fund, Halstead Architects, KEJ Foundation, the Indianapolis Foundation, The Tracy L. Haddad Foundation, The Netherleigh Fund, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, the Murphy Arts L.L.C., Penrod Foundation, and Big Car Art + Design. Copyright © 2013 Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher.

10 | CURATORIAL NOTES Jeremy Efroymson Vess Ruhtenberg 12 | PHILP JOHNSON & JAN RUHTENBERG Miroslav Ambroz 25 | 1929-1930 Writing Desk Barcelona Chair Variant Moderne Bauformen Berlin Interior Prototype Cantilevered Chair 35 | 1930-1933 Prototype Floor Lamp Swedish Beach House Chapin House 41 | 1934-1945 Ruhtenberg Residence, NYC Carriage House Museum Ruhtenberg Residence, Colorado Springs 47 | 1947-1952 Oliver Le Compte Residence Penrose House 51 | 1956-1958 Donahue Residence Opera House Cooperative Office Building











think that the story behind Jan was so fascinating. This man who starts out in Berlin fleeing the Nazis and ends

up in Indy via Stockholm, New York, and Colorado Springs. The amazing houses and buildings and furniture he designed, working with Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe, getting outed, getting sent to architectural purgatory - his life had these tremendous ups and downs.


he preceding pages of autobiographical notes, though an accurate list of a man’s life’s

New York apartment and became a pivotal part of the inner workings of Mies’ office, not least of which was furniture design. Joseph Hudnut, who later brought Gropius to Harvard, first hired Jan in 1934 to teach the “new architecture” at Columbia University. During the early 1930’s Jan designed with assistant William T. Priestly and worked for Walter K. Harrison on a Penthouse and a meeting room for Nelson Rockefeller. He remodeled the Greenwich home of Helen Resor. Four years later it was the Resor’s and their acquired taste for Modernism that gave Mies van der Rohe the commission that brought him to America. Similarly Jan’s Modern “World’s Fair” line of furniture for Herman Miller in 1939

was the first of its kind for the company, trailblazing a new direction for this still successful company. These are things that an old black and white list of commissions and jobs can’t convey. At the height of Jan’s career in the late 1950’s he was outed as a homosexual. His second wife, socialite Polly KingRuhtenberg divorced him, taking most of her rich clientele with her. Jan’s career floundered, peppered with occasional commissions and teaching jobs (including Oklahoma University and Rhode Island School of Design) and an increasing taste for alcohol. By the 1970’s he was living alone in an apartment in downtown Indianapolis, an all but forgotten figure.

Long abandoned by his old friend Philip Johnson and many in his own family, Jan watched as the Minton Capehart Federal building rose up next to his apartment window. Designed by Evans Woollen, an understudy of Mr. Johnson, the Federal Building took shape as Jan succumbed to the afterlife, eclipsed by the very movement he helped start. In recent years as research has become an online endeavor and interest in the Modern movement has gained worldwide attention, so has Mr. Ruhtenberg’s legacy. This exhibit is a response to many inquiries from all over the world and an attempt to restore one of architecture’s finest proponents and talented designers.
– VESS RUHTENBERG Jan Ruhtenberg, 1896-1975

work, lack many of the nuances of this lost figure’s achievements. It may not have seemed important to Jan at the time to mention his close friendship with Philip Johnson. The two met sometime in 1929 and often took pilgrimages to see modern masterpieces, including a drive to the Bauhaus with Mies van der Rohe in tow. It was here that Mr. Johnson “made his first serious art acquisition” , a painting by Paul Klee.

Eventually the two were designing together including a full remodel of the Johnson family home in Pinehurst. Jan assisted in the Mies-designed remodeling of Philip’s



Franz Schulz, “Philip Johnson, Life and Work”, p.54-55




hilip Johnson played a key role in introducing modern European architecture to America. In late

John McAndrew, and Jan Ruhtenberg2. Johnson curated the first architecture exhibition organized by MoMA, later known as “International Style,”

According to Johnson himself, his New York apartment at 424 E. 52nd Street was in 1931 the “first modern kind of apartment in New York,” and it was

work by the now largely forgotten architect Jan Ruhtenberg.

school. McAndrew6 was on a sightseeing tour and, Johnson found, was as “crazy about modern architecture” as he was.

the architecture of Oud, Gropius and design of Bauhaus. He could, as noted biographer Franz Schultze claims, “enjoy equally the reductivist forms of the Weissenhofsiedlung and the opulent sounds of the Ring of the Nibelungs. Moreover, since his upbringing had confined him so narrowly to the study of beauty, he found it easy to make beauty the standard of goodness, to equate aesthetics with morality.”9 Johnson was also receiving advice and tasks to undertake from newly-named MOMA director Alfred Barr, and one of the places he was to visit was the Weisenhof Settlement near Stuttgart: a “little suburb made by all the famous modern architects. Just perfect for me to begin on. My first view of things by Le Corbusier, Gropius, and

1920’s Philip Johnson’s wealth enabled him to travel to Europe and discover what would became his passion: architecture. As a Harvard undergraduate he had been subject to conflicts over his homosexuality and his unsuccessful philosophy studies. He had no clear sense of what he wanted from life. During a trip to Greece, however, he turned his interest to architecture. His newfound devotion soon led him to admire modern architecture above all. This inclination materialized in the course of two trips to Germany in 1929 and 1930 and was strongly influenced by friendships with Alfred Barr Jr. , Henry-Russell Hitchcock,

which would

introduce America to the great European Modernists—namely Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius. In the course of his 1930 European trip, Johnson first met Mies van der Rohe, who was not yet tremendously well known. Nonetheless, Johnson felt he instantly recognized in Mies a personality who would set the course for modern architecture. Johnson asked Mies to design his New York apartment. The project came together very quickly, with Jan Ruhtenberg, a young architect with whom Johnson had become friendly in Berlin, also contributing.

undoubtedly the “first space in the United States to accommodate the famous chairs and smaller pieces originally designed for the Weissenhofsiedlung, the Barcelona Pavilion, and the Tugendhat House” by Mies van der Rohe. Mies furniture designs

In July of 1929 Johnson loaded up his car on the ocean liner the S.S. Bremen and started his 6 month trip in Europe— partly as an escape from Harvard, partly to learn German and admire the beauty of the arts. He spent most of his time in Germany (with the exception of short journeys to Holland and Prague) visiting galleries, gothic cathedrals, baroque palaces, or attending operas. On a visit to a Mannheim gallery, Johnson met John McAndrew, then a student at the Harvard Architectural

McAndrew was in the process of finishing his thesis and had several popular articles on modern architecture to write, so the two planned to combine their journeys and visit the most interesting buildings together. This time with McAndrew intensified Johnson’s desire to build his own understanding of modern architecture: “I am going to plunge into architectural books and, by gosh, learn to read them easily. Really this trip I am taking now, I take rather against my will. (...) Having John with me has been gorgeous, because it keeps the focus on art all the time.”

are widely recognized as icons of twentiethcentury design. The story of their first introduction to America, however, is less fully elucidated than their subsequent fate. The many letters Johnson wrote from Europe give a vivid picture not only of the circumstances of his New York apartment, but also of the role played in his life and

Johnson fell in love with a new aesthetics -

About Miroslav Ambroz Independent researcher and art historian, expert and appraiser of art; 1994 Municipality of the City of Brno, Department of Historical Monuments; 2001 Fine Arts Conservation Consulting Expert for several architectural companies and government institutions, including the Department of Historical Monuments Protection; 1995 Department of Historical Monuments Protection, Brno Art Historian expert for reconstructions of historical buildings and monuments; 2001 – 2005 Moravian Gallery, Brno, Fine and Applied Arts Expert, Exhibition Curator, appraising and authenticating documentation, Head Curator of the exhibition project ‘Vienna Secession’; 2010 research on furnishings of Villa Tugendhat; 2013 exhibition curator MOCA, Chengdu, China.

Johnson met Barr in June of 1929 Johnson met Ruhtenberg for the first time in November of 1929 see: Franz Schulze: Philip Johnson, Life and work, New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1994, p.50-69 4 Philip Johnson in an interview with Sharon Zane, MoMA Archives Oral History: December 18, 1990, p.66 5 Franz Schulze, Philip Johnson: Life and Work, p.70
1 2 3

6 John McAndrew (1904-1978), in 1937 he was appointed as the curator of Department of Architecture and Industrial Art at MoMA 7 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 10.8.1929; Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 8 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 3.10.1929, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 9 Franz Schulze, Philip Johnson: Life and Work, p.56


Oud, the three greatest living architects.”10 His periodic reports to his mother give a clear picture of his views on architecture from that period: “Le Corbusier has of course thrown over all attempt at a purely formal beauty. He constructs the most practical thing that can be made most comfortable, cheapest, and thick walls for coolness and warmth etc. The beauty lies purely in proportion. The only trouble it seems to me is that they are not quite beautiful. Oud on the other hand, I feel is a kindred spirit. If you know what the feeling is, I feel that if I were an architect I should build that way.” Interestingly, Mies’ name never appears on those pages, as at the time he was not wellknown as an architect.

This trip also crystallized Johnson’s ideas and plans for an extension to his mother’s house in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He recommended John McAndrews as a “quite capable” architect. But also - as Schulze explains, it was during this time that “encouraged by both McAndrew and Ruhtenberg Philip Johnson tried his hand for the first time at designing”. peculiar ideas”: The idea is the use of nothing but the purest possible primary colors. But there would be so much white, (with gray of course for rugs etc.) that the colors would only be bits. And they would be in extent as much as their relative importance to the eye.

I mean there would be much more yellow than blue, and much more blue than red, since that is their inverse proportion of intensity. The walls would be shiny white Duco, the carpet and stuffed chairs, grey or a mixture of gray and black with no brownish quality, rather a silvery. The lighting fixtures and door knobs and things of chromium plate and ground glass. The curtains of a pure yellow, leaning rather to the lemon, canary, than to the ochre. Where the red and blue go is rather secondary, since they must be quite small in area though powerful in intensity. The window sills and jambs may be yellow vitrolite and the curtains blue, blue without

magenta and yet dark, a flashing blue. The front door I regret to say must be red, and no grayed one at that. A bright light red.

a painter, and I have bought some, I think you will like. She really has great talent. Jan, that is Mr. Ruhtenberg, and I have made you a beautiful room for the Pinehurst house. I recalled as best I could the dimensions and we have the neatest plans drawn up. Any cabinet maker can make the room from the plans. We have tastes that are very very similar and together we have what we think is a rather beautiful room. (...) The draughtsman at Jan’s office does all the work, and I have the fun of seeing the way things come out on paper. When we get the color sketches and everything, I am going to Breuer, and ask him what he thinks and to make perhaps a more

interesting set of plans. Ours naturally being by two amateurs are a bit too simple and severe, outside of the colors. Still that is the right side to err on. But to get back to my favorite Ruhtenbergs. I adore the children, and we play together by the hour. I have bought them a railroad train and we have collisions and things between two trains all the time. I shall always be just so old. Mother, when will I grow up? The relation between the two is ideal, the mother and father I mean. They very seldom go anywhere together or see each other, each having his own friends and circle, but at the same time they are the best of friends. They have separate parts

Of interest here is the way Johnson explains his vision primarily in terms of color, approaching interior design as if it were a Mondrian painting. In mid-october, McAndrew left for Paris, and Johnson grew closer to Ruhtenberg. Almost immediately, they created some new designs for Pinehurst: The Ruhtenberg family (...) has practically adopted me. I eat over there almost once a day, and I am always in and out. (...) I am Uncle Philip to the little kids, aged 4 and 6. The wife I am devoted to. She is

As for

the Pinehurst interior, Johnson had “some

Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 18.8. 1929, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 11 Shulze, Philip Johnson: Life and Work, p.55



Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 3.10.1929, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29


of the apartments and live happily separately. I am one of the very few mutual friends, so through me they hove gone out a lot, en trois which they seldom do. And the children meanwhile, get very well brought up because they both are intelligent. And Jan knows everyone of importance in Berlin it seems.

metal work and the brilliance of the golds are somewhat dimmed on the sketch, but the imagination can soon restore it in the flesh. We have made a nice stuffed chair for you that is shallow and has a straight back, and a most glorious one for the rest of the family that goes way back and is very low. The whole thing, blue prints and sketch, even down to the dimensions of the lamp, together cost fifty dollars which I don’t think is bad. Jan did not count his work in because he is getting experience and fun at the same time. Today or tomorrow we are going to see one of the most brilliant younger interior decoration men to see what he thinks and what plans he would

make for the same room. (...) But the biggest excitement of the recent week was my visit to Dessau. Jan and I went together on Friday night. He was once invited to be the assistant head of the Bauhaus but refused so naturally he knows people down there. Through him I met the most charming people, people I shall always know and like. But especially I met my favorite Klee. I bought a picture of his…”14 During this visit, Johnson also met with Marcel Breuer and consulted with him on the Pinehurst designs, as well. Breuer “had several interesting suggestions (...) so when I get back I will talk the whole matter over with you and see what you think of letting him do the room.” In

closing, he attempts to persuade his mother to join him Paris in December: “we could visit Barcelona together for a day or so, to see the things, that you will never see again because they are hidden away.” Unfortunately, he was not, after all, sent to Barcelona and instead in December returned to New York.

was Russel Hitchcock who would guide him on most of the three months travels through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. After Hitchcock left via England to return home, Johnson traveled with Jan Ruhtenberg to Switzerland, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Philip Johnson and Alfred Barr visited the German furniture exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, and both found it very exciting. Johnson wrote his mother: “The German show of furniture here is so wonderful that I am importing a whole set of it. If you can ‘t use it I can, and if you do I think I shall order some more...” and returns to the topic later in the letter: “Alfred said today, the furniture was really more exciting than the modern exhibit, which is

on now of painting. And that is something for Alfred. Well, excuse the ego and the art in this, but I am full of it.”16 This “Section Allemande” – the German contribution to the exhibition of Société des artistes décorateurs français17 - caused considerable consternation in France. The exhibition was conceived by Gropius and was divided into five rooms, of which the most often reproduced part was the communal area for the ten-story apartment block, designed as a series of lightweight high tech structures in steel and glass. “Consistent in programme, brilliant in installation, it stood like an island of integrity, in a mélange of chaotic modernistic caprice, demonstrating (what was not generally recognized at the time)

A week later, he had more to report: Jan and I have finished your room in Pinehurst, and if you don’t use it, I shall adapt it for the living room of the Barrett house. I can assure you it will not be cheap, but it will be very very beautiful. We have a color sketch all made of it, and how I wish you were here, to thrill over it. Of course the

1 9 3 0 : PA R I S
In June of 1930, Philip Johnson returned to Europe, where he met with Russell Hitchcock and with the newly married Alfred and Margo Barr.

He diligently

wrote his mother on his portable typewriter, going over his travel plans and discussing which routes he’d need to take to gather materials for the MOMA exhibition. It

Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 18.11.1929, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 14 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 24.11.1929, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29


Margaret Scolari-Fitzmaurice and Alfred Barr got married in Paris at the end of May, 1930. The whole intellectual & artistic ex-pat group completed poet Cary Ross, composer and critic Virgil Thomson, conductor George Cates, Eunice Stoddard Smith and Rose Nichols 16 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, June 1930, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 17 exhibition was held from 14. 5. to 13. 7. 1930


that German industrial design, thanks largely to the Bauhaus, was years ahead of the rest of the world.”

remarks, it is apparent that his affair with poet and fellow MoMA staffer Cary Ross was (again) in crisis: “Cary still wallowing in all the problems of finding life or rather Life not worth so much, and nothing really an end in itself, gives me mixed feelings of pity and relation with him definitely became less close.”

barbarians, almost, from across the ocean. He was a very delicate, Catholic, semi-recluse, and he just was appalled of this invasion of alien forces that said they liked his work but couldn’t possibly understand the finer points. From then on, since I could talk a little German by then, I did the interpreting. Also in the work, because Russell was such a Corbusier man that he just wasn’t as interested in the Germanic or the design approach that Mies represented. I was much more interested in Mies than I was in Corbu.

I have been living with Jan and we have become better friends than ever. I must tell you how it is with him. This money you know that he got some ten thousand dollars, he is going to use to get a degree in architecture, so he can be a practising architect. Of course here you don’t need the degree to build things, but with a degree you are always sure of job and of course every architect who later amounts to anything, has one. A prominent architect here told him he had talent and that he ought to study, and Russell and I after seeing his recent plans agree. He says if he kept the money, it would gradually disappear in filling in the cracks in his insufficient salary,

and hence disappear in a few years anyhow, and it is much too small a sum to invest in starting anything in Germany today. He considers his degree with three years study the best investment of it, and I agree with him. He is not the kind of man to remain a clerk and we are all convinced he will do well as an architect. Much to my delight, Cary and Russell and Alfred, like Jan and he them, so we all got along very well.

and then through Tyrol, to Salzburg and Vienna, where we shall stay a very short time, and then to work again at Brno and Prague where a great deal of modern architecture is to be found. Russell meanwhile will have gone home, for which I thank God. In the conclusion of this letter, Johnson mentions the plan to ask Mies van der Rohe to design the interior of his apartment in New York. Even as he asks his mother’s opinion, though, it is clear from the context that he has already commissioned him. ... and then there is one other matter which I must talk over with you. There is this very great architect here who does the best interiors in the world. Do you think it would be too much

Many of the

French reviews revealed a fear not only of German cultural mastery but also of political and economic domination.

From Paris, Hitchcock and Johnson traveled to Holland, and on June 20, Johnson wrote to his mother from The Hague, detailing his further travel plans with Russel Hitchcock and describing a route which this time would also include Prague and Brno: “Cary and Alfred will meet us in Berlin, where we shall have a furniture buying orgy, and then we will motor through southern Germany and maybe Switzerland back to Paris.” From his

Some time towards the end of June, Johnson met Mies for the first time. He remembered the meeting as follows some years later: I first went to see Mies (...) with Alfred and Marga and Russell. So, there were four of us... and ever since Mies always called that “the American invasion”; to him it was just an overwhelming force of

Judging by the superlatives that often appear on these pages in connection with Ruhtenberg, their relationship became very close: Jan will join me and we shall go a few days to Davos nearby to visit Raphael

On July 8, 1930, Johnson moved in with Jan Ruhtenberg in Berlin and writes on stationery Jan had designed for him in the style of Mies:

Alfred H. Barr Jr, Bauhaus, 1919-1928, Exh. Cat., MoMA, 1938, p.5 Paul Overy, Visions of the Future and the & immediate Past: The Werkbund Exhibition, Paris 1930, Journal of Design History Vol 17, No 4, p.345 20 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 7.7.1930 ,Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 21 MoMA Archives Oral History: P . Johnson p.61 of 122
18 19



Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 8. 7. 1930, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29


expense to let him do my apartment furniture plus duty would not cost as much as Deskey , anywhere near, I

With the shipment of my furniture I shall send also a few straight chairs and a metal bed for Pinehurst.

agreed to take my friend Jan as the first voluntary assistant that he has ever had. He had talked of the best way to study architecture and he advised my friend against going to the Technische Hochschule, and told him that he ought to work with various architects for the same amount of time and thus learn more. The first architect he suggested was you, and I hope sometime that I can bring Jan to see you in Rotterdam, he has always waited to know you and now that I do know you he is more wild about it than ever. Finally Mies agreed to let him work in his office and since it is the first time that Mies has ever taken anyone to work this way, we felt quite honored.

Johnson and Ruhtenberg traveled for about three weeks through Switzerland to Vienna and arrived around August 20 in Brno: We got in touch with a wonderful young architect German Bohemian which means not so quite so disgusting as the genuine article. He was a dear and helped us see everything of which there was a very great deal to see. We were there only twenty four hours but we are now fast friends of young Eisler

all of glass from in the ceiling to the very floor. Great sheets of plate glass that go into the floor electrically. The side of the room is at least thirty feet and is glass to the east. This room is divided into dining room library and living room by partial walls which do not in the least destroy its size, but rather magnify it. One wall is of onyx. It has cost already a million marks, which in Europe is a frightful sum. A beautiful house.” On the trip from Brno to Prague they were involved in an unpleasant accident, which Johnson later dubbed “The Miracle of the Flying Girl”: the car collided with a young cyclist, who didn’t give right of way and rode straight into the car they were

riding in. A motorcyclist coming from the opposite direction was also involved and ended up under his bike, lightly wounded. Fortunately an ambulance was passing and was able to take the motorcyclist to the hospital, and the girl was unhurt except for the shock. They arrived in Prague on August 22, but it was a holiday and they weren’t able to meet with any of the architects. They wandered about the city and Johnson described his view to his mother: “Besides this awful language and these awful people, and the awful roads and the awful rain, for weeks and weeks without stopping are very annoying in themselves. I was up for a few hours today and saw lots of my old favorites with Jan in the only sun I have seen for weeks and then

have found that out, and it would be the first room entirely in my latest style in America. Wire me if you think it out of the question. I think it would be the cheapest possible kind of publicity for my style, The whole will be elegant but so simple. It would take me all night to describe just what it would be like and then it would not do it justice. And while I think of it, those German fixtures work very well in American sockets only they have to be rewired by an electrician. (...) And what do you think of my new paper? Jan designed it and I consider it a masterpiece.(...)

After seeing some of the rooms that he had decorated here in Berlin, I got the idea of getting him to do my room in New York for me. I went to call on him with my best friend, a German, Jan Ruhtenberg who is beginning to study architecture. Mies was most polite and distant, but we were lucky to be going to Dessau the same day he was going, so we took him with us in the car and then he opened up and talked all the way, always impersonally, but very openly, about his plans or the Bauhaus and the other architects. By the time we were back in Berlin he had


invited us to stay with him next time we came down. We saw a wonderful house by Mies van der Rohe, who is doing my apartment. He has one room very low ceilinged, one hundred feet long, toward the south

Donald Deskey (1894 – 1989) Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 6.8.1930, Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 25 Philip Johnson, letter to J. P . Oud, 17 September 1930 An bord der Bremen, Philip Johnson Papers, VI-1. MoMA Archives, New York
23 24



Otto Eisler (1893 – 1968)


it started to rain so I went to bed again. In a few days we will be back in Berlin and glad I will be to be there once more.”

am afraid it is going to be rather expensive fitting it up, but then the apartment itself is not so frightfully expensive and I think it is terribly important that I have a show apartment to counteract this terrible way of modernistic apartments that we now have. It is to gasp my apartment. It is so different from what I would have had last year or even this, without the influence of Mies van der Rohe. He is a very great man, and Jan and I feel just about two inches high when we talk to him. For Jan he has done everything. He has taken him into his office to work instead sending him to the Technische Hochschule. There is so

much (...) taught today in that a man with limited time and money like Jan, cannot afford to go. And Mies in his twenty years of architectural experience has never had an unpaid learning assistant of this fashion. For some reason he was much taken with Jan and Jan is now walking around on clouds naturally. Jan and I had worked out the apartment together before going to Mies, and Mies has really changed nothing essential in Jan’s plan, so we think that he was impressed by the latent talent shown in the plan. I have no doubt at all that Jan talented and now that he has a little leisure to study I am sure he will come through. It is good to

have friends who get ahead. Most people just lean back and expect to be pushed or pulled. Strange that I really should feel closer to someone who even speaks a foreign language than to most of my friends in America. But we have so much in common not to mention architecture, and then his family is so nice.

drawings, for example, are a few sheets of unelaborated details.”

wall by full-length draperies. The room was furnished by pieces of Mies’s and Reich’s furniture in an asymmetrically formal arrangement of two Barcelona chairs and ottomans, and a low lounge (later known as the daybed)32 around a square table. A grand piano stood against the wall opposite the fireplace, with a floor lamp and MR-stool. Other furnishings were created according to new designs by Lily Reich using tubular steel as vertical supports: two bookshelves33 and writing desk. Alfred Clauss34 was recommended to Johnson by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe to supervise his apartment on site in America. Willy Kaiser from the studio of Mies asked him to take some additional measurements and “as many photos of

On the way to Berlin, they stopped in Dresden, “where Jan has done one shop front and I was surprised to see what a magnificent architect he is and is going to be.”

FUR NI S HI N G S O F T H E 4 2 4 E . 5 2 ND S T A PA R T M EN T
On September 16, 1930 Philip Johnson boarded a steamer in Bremen, arriving in New York on the 22nd. Before his departure, he had ordered furnishings and supplies from Mies van der Rohe’s studio on the basis of the submitted drawings. At this time, Johnson also designated Jan Ruhtenberg as his agent, depositing the sum of 10,000 marks into his account. Johnson’s 550-square-foot apartment consisted of a foyer, a living room with a fireplace, a bedroom, and a kitchen. The living room windows were screened wall to

After arriving in Berlin, Johnson

was annoyed to find that Mies had not even begun his interior designs. He sent home some light fixtures, glasses, goblets, and a few extra Mies chairs. On 1 September, he sent his mother some details about the designs: I shall have to stay at least a day getting things in my apartment straightened out and it would be great if you were to be there. I

Johnson in a later interview spoke about how long and in what great detail Mies worked on his plans for Johnson’s apartment, and declared that in a sense, it had been—despite the small scale— as important to Mies “as six skyscrapers. Schulze explains, however, that “The talk about “six skyscrapers”

was typical

Johnson hyperbole; the surviving working

Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 1.9.1930 ,Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 30 “in 1930 he had only my apartment to do... He did it as if it were six skyscrapers—the amount of work he put into that apartment was incredible” in: Franz Schulze, Edward Windhors, Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, New and Revised Edition, p. 141 31 Franz Schulze,Edward Windhors, Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, New and Revised Edition, p. 439

the daybed was also used for the Crous apartment in Berlin, See: Christiane Lange, Ludwig Mies von der Rohe and Lilly Reich: furniture and Interiors (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. 2006), pp.106108; Helmut Reuter and Birgit Schulte, eds., Mies and Modern Living (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. 2008), p.198. 33 drawing for the bookcases at MoMA, MvdR Archive; 36.8. 34 German-born architect Alfred Clauss (1906-1998) had worked with Karl Schneider and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany prior his immigration to the United States in 1930. He is reported to have

worked on the famous German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition of 1929. After his arrival in the United States in 1930, Clauss became a designer with Howe & Lescaze and later he helped design the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. His American wife Jane, had worked in the office of Le Corbusier.

Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 22.8.1930 ,Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29 28 Philip Johnson, letter to Mrs. H. Johnson, 22.8.1930 ,Philip Johnson Papers, 1908-2002, bulk 1925-1998, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 980060, Box 29



fireplace, windows, doors, etc.”35 On September 23 1930, the following were on order for Mies studio at the firm Berliner Metallgewerbe Jos. Müller, Berlin Neuköln, Lichtenraderstrasse 32: Two chrome Barcelona chairs, two MR tables with dark wood tabletops, diameter 60 cm; 1 tubular steel chair with armrests (later called “Brno” chair) for a writing desk, 4 matching chairs of flat steel, 1 MR chair and 2 MR stools with dark-blue cane, 1 kitchen table without glass plate (diameter 95 cm, height 75 cm). Upholstery for the Barcelona and Brno (pigskin and calf parchment) chairs was ordered at Günther & Co. Berlin. After Alfred Clauss submitted plans and detailed measurements showing elevation, chimneys, and electrical outlets,

Lilly Reich asked Johnson’s approval for several minor changes to the work table. The tabletop would now be 40 cm and covered in a dark brown leather, and the legs were chrome.

the following year, Johnson ordered one more chair via Ruhtenberg.

Carl Wilhelm and Mildred Crous, the Hess apartment). Mies was also named director of the Bauhaus in early August of 1930. By mid-1931, however, he was almost without work. The Berlin Building Exposition - Deutsche Bauausstellung

presented at the Berlin exhibition fell out of favor. Jan Ruhtenberg had to leave Berlin soon after his great success, never to return. In the summer of 1931 Johnson writes to Oud from Berlin: “Things are not going very smoothly here and I find a great deal of work to be done. Ruthenberg has gone to Sweden to try to get work there; it is, of course, absolutely impossible in Berlin to support a wife and three children by being an architect.” A month later he concludes:

Mies MR, Barcelona and Brno chairs are today considered icons of twentiethcentury design. What remains of the original New York apartment is now found in the collections of MOMA in New York and the Glass House at New Canaan, Connecticut, a building which Johnson designed under the influence of Mies’ Farnsworth House project. Original pieces are now rare artifacts that help us to understand the genesis and production of metal furniture and the changes that have occurred during its 80-year journey.41

Johnson’s New York apartment was the culmination of a short happy period during which Philip Johnson and Jan Ruthenberg shared a close relationship and common path. The furnished interior was Mies’ first step into the country that would become his new home just seven years later. The turn of 1930-31 was also the culmination of Mies van der Rohe’s career in Europe, which concluded with the completion of the magnificent villa of Fritz and Greta Tugendhat in Brno and several smaller contracts were realized at the same time (the golf club study in Krefeld, interiors for

Production of the furniture began immediately. In an interesting coincidence, Berliner Metallgewerbe Josef Müller was at the same time busy with the production of chairs for the Villa Tugendhat in Brno— thus crucial construction details were executed identically. In spite of a metalworker’s strike and delayed production, everything from the curtain rods to the straw floor covering (Fussbodentwist) was shipped together with the Mies furniture on the S.S. Deutschland on December 23, 1930. On January of

- was truly his

swan song. As the artistic director of the exhibition Dwellings of our Time, he gave space to the young talented architect Jan Ruhtenberg. Ruhtenberg made good use of his chance—not only did he receive the gold medal from the City of Berlin, but his interior, which included prototypes of the steel tube Tugendhat chairs, appeared on the cover of the magazine Moderne Bauform. Nevertheless the economic and political situation led to Hitler’s rise to power, and the modern architecture Mies

“Poor man is starving to death in Sweden. I shall help him till he gets on his feet and I am sure he will do that.”39 And later from NYC: Jan Ruhtenberg has a job designing furniture in Stockholm, though not enough money yet to support his family. But he is lucky this year.40
coffee table with a new glass top and a cantilever chair and stool, with caned seats designed by Mies van der Rohe’s colleague Lilly Reich. There were also two rosewood tables with legs flush to the corners the Mies design that probably inspired the Parsons table. Tubular Brno chair from the study is now in the collection of MOMA; the core of the furnishing arrangement: 2 Barcelona chairs, 4 flat steel Brno chairs, Wagenfeld lamp were authenticated by the author of this text as originals (except the upholstery) at the Glass House in New Canaan, CN.

Willy Kaiser letter to Alfred Clauss, 12. 9.1930, Department of Architecture, MoMA Archives, New York Lilly Reich letter to Philip Johnson, 24. 10.1930, Department of Architecture, MoMA Archives, New York 37 opened in Berlin 9.5.1931 and closed on 8.2.1931 38 Philp Johnson, letter to J. P . Oud, August 2nd, 1931, J.P . Oud Papers, Nederlands Architectuurinstituut | Netherlands Architecture Institute Rotterdam
35 36


Philp Johnson, letter to J. P . Oud, September 2nd, 1931, J.P . Oud Papers, Nederlands Architectuurinstituut | Netherlands Architecture Institute Rotterdam 40 Philp Johnson, letter to J. P . Oud, November 11, 1931, J.P . Oud Papers, Nederlands Architectuurinstituut | Netherlands Architecture Institute Rotterdam 41 In 1957 Johnson gave part of his furniture collection to Robert Melik Finkle, an apprentice. In 1997 five pieces made for his apartment, on East 52nd Street, were auctioned at Christie’s in New York. Three were nickel-plated tubular steel furniture, called the MR series: a


This is Mr. Ruhtenberg’s personal desk. Almost every edifice and furnishing in Jan’s canon was drawn on this table top. It is of very similar design and construction to the writing desk for haus Tugendhat credited to Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. Designed while Jan was in Mies’ office, the original Tugendhat desk was lost during WWII and presumably destroyed by the invading Nazis. This desk survives as a testament to the subtle and sturdy solutions arrived at more than 80 years ago in a small office in Berlin.
Image: Jeffrey Bond, photographer


1 9 2 9 ( E S T. ) GERMANY B A R C E LO N A C H A I R VA R I A N T
Little is known about Ruhtenberg’s mysterious versions of the most famous of all modern chairs. Striking differences to the final design are the rounded corners and delicate crossbar. Large leather belts manufactured to secure early automobile hoods were used for the cushion straps. Flat and thin leather cushions were originally employed for these chairs and are reproduced here. Mr. Ruhtenberg shipped many Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier furnishings (in addition to many of his own pieces) from Europe when he emigrated to America in the early 1930’s.
Image: Jeffrey Bond, photographer



Living in Berlin, Ruhtenberg befriended Philip Johnson. They designed rooms for Johnson family homes, toured significant modernist sites throughout Europe, and met their architectural idols. Ruhtenberg’s first published work, executed with Jo Neubacher, appeared in the September 1930 issue of Moderne Bauformen with the caption “Wohnraum im Landhaus J. in Ohio.” The drawing was likely intended for the Johnson family.


Ruhtenberg worked in Mies van der Rohe’s office, maintained his own practice in Berlin, and remodeled his own apartment using Mies’ furniture along with cabinets, tables, and chairs of his own design. This apartment at 22 Achenbachstrasse was a home away from home for Philip Johnson and actual home to Ruhtenberg, his wife Hanna von Helmsing and their three children. This photo was featured on p.205 in the catalogue for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1932 landmark exhibit, The International Style: Architecture Since 1922.
Image: photographer unknown


A chair of Ruhtenberg’s design imbued with the modern spirit: the long, elegant bent-wood design recalls the furniture of Alvar Aalto and the gentle arc reveals Mies van der Rohe’s influence. The hairy hide suggests the influence of Southwest American style on Ruhtenberg’s design sensibility.
Image: Jeffrey Bond, photographer


This is the prototype of a floor lamp designed by Jan Ruhtenberg for Swedish furniture company Svenskt Tenn. These lamps appear in many of Jan’s designs and originally had a thin silk veil around the shade. The production model had a larger base and shade and a more elaborate height adjustment mechanism. Mr. Ruhtenberg and Svenskt Tenn founder Estrid Ericson were early proponents of the Swedish Modern style.
Image: Jeffrey Bond, photographer


By 1932, a soon-to-be divorced Ruhtenberg lived in Stockholm with his two sons. He became a designer for Estrid Ericson’s Svensk Tenn Furniture Company, rebuilt the King of Sweden’s castle, remodeled an apartment for the Crown Prince of Sweden, and exhibited his own furniture in the Swedish Pavilion at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Ruhtenberg designed and built houses for the cultural elite in both New York and Sweden. The Gunnar Palme house of Stockholm was rented by Greta Garbo and luxurious modern designs were carried out for a Mr. J.A. Thomas, Dr. Stiller, and Admiral Count Carl Posse.
Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, photographer unknown


Ruhtenberg designed projects in New York for Nelson Rockefeller, Helen Resor, and the Museum of Modern Art. “Philip (Johnson) had the wild idea that he was going to be a sort of broker ... that he was going to get commissions for architects, and he’d have somebody who did Georgian Houses and Ruhtenberg to do modern houses, and so forth.”
––William Priestly, Ruhtenberg’s assistant at Columbia (interview with Ludwig Glaser, Sept. 3, 1976, MvdR archive, MoMA, Tape 2: Side 1)

The Simeon B. Chapin Youpon Dunes Beach House was a commission that came through Johnson’s social connections. Ruhtenberg objected to the round port windows on the second floor and the life preservers on the railing. He retouched original prints to eliminate them.
Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, photographer unknown


1934-1936 NEW YORK CITY
On August 4, 1935 Ruhtenberg married second wife, socialite Mrs. Polly King Carter. Carter’s father, Willard V. King, funded many of Ruhtenberg’s most significant works. “In 1936 Ruhtenberg took a two-year lease on a fourteen-foot-wide brownstone and transformed its interior in the Miesian manner, with curtains and raftlike carpets defining functional areas and establishing appropriate spaces for Mies’s furniture supplemented by some of Ruhtenberg’s own design.”
––New York 1930, Stern, Gilmartin, Mellins Image: Remodeled Brownstone, Dining Room, New York City, 1936, Emelie Danielson, photographer


“In 1940 I received a commission in Colorado Springs and came out here to build the El Pomar Carriage Museum in Broadmoor. From then on my practice grew so rapidly that I stayed in Colorado Springs with the exception of the war years, when I worked at Chrysler Corporation in Detroit designing structures for the war effort.”
––Jan Ruhtenberg (from his personal bio) Image: El Pomar Carriage House Museum, Colorado Springs, Colorado. A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Lloyd Knutson, photographer


“When asked whether he thought farmers would like modern furniture, Mr. Ruhtenberg turned quickly and said: ‘Farmers are modern. I know, because I am one myself. A year ago, while touring from coast to coast by car, I visited many farmers. I found the Western and Midwestern farmers much more modern-minded in their building than New Yorkers.’”
––Interview with Virginia Rogers, 1939 Image: Ruhtenberg family home, Colorado Springs, Colorado, A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Robert Koons, structural engineer, Guy Burgess, photographer


Ruhtenberg was on the advisory board of the Denver University Architectural School from 1945 to 1952 and taught design for several summers. From 1947 to 1951, he was a member of the board of directors of the Central City Opera Association. In 1946, Ruhtenberg rebuilt the opera house, the residences of singers, and a hotel in Central City. The Oliver Le Compte residence, nicknamed “the house on the mesa,” sat at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.
Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Guy Burgess, photographer


1952 “THE SHACK”
Ruhtenberg built dozens of houses in Colorado from the ‘40s through the ‘60s. More than halfway up Cheyenne Mountain, this home served as a treasure chest for world traveler Mrs. Spencer Penrose and her ephemera. The interior featured sculpted busts, a “walk-in fireplace” and sunken sitting area, and hand-painted chintz draperies. Citing early Minoan design, the blue and magenta columns taper through the slabs and deep into the mountainside.
Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Pete Baroni, furniture builder, Guy Burgess, photographer


The house featured enormous sliding glass doors, natural finish teak wood partitions and hidden closets, floors and walls of Roman travertine, a New York Blue Stone fireplace, spun glass drapes, raw silk rugs from India, cantilevered concrete steps, and Knoll furniture. “We loved Jan, and having him as our architect was a great experience. The three of us shared the delight of building that house.”
––Minnie Donahue, 2001

Ed and Winnie’s house is now Seasons Hospice.
Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Ralph L. Bloom, consulting engineer, photos by Reynold’s Photography, Minneapolis, MN


Ruhtenberg’s design for an opera house in Colorado Springs won first prize in a Progressive Architecture competition. “If it becomes a reality, it certainly would make Colorado the center of the great entertainments in this entire part of the country.”
––Mrs. Gretchen Hampton, Gazette Telegraph, Colorado Springs, January 19, 1957 Image: A.G. Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Robert Koons, structural engineer. Photograph of model. Photographer unknown.


The Cooperative Office Building was Ruhtenberg’s own office in Colorado Springs, CO. After renderings were published in the local newspaper, residents expressed concern that the building would fall over. In response, Ruhtenberg built a private (and very heavy) library over his own office on the second floor.
Image: Jan Ruhtenberg, architect, Koons, Tyree, and Schlegel, engineers, Guy Burgess, photographer


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