Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Philip Johnson: Chapel of St. Basil

This is an exterior shot of Philip Johnson's Chapel of St. Basil, University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas. The Chapel, though small, is awe inspiring due in part to its soaring walls, utter simplicity and natural light that enters through various architectural openings.

Geometric placement of bells

Note the contrast of materials: the white stucco wall, gold dome with cross and charcoal stone of the bell tower.

Just as you enter or exit, if you look upwards, you will see the perfection of combined geometry and light.

The interior of St. Basil has the simultaneous feel of ancient and modern, possibly due to the use of ancient materials in a modern design.

As you leave the Chapel, take a moment to experience the volume and light in the vestibule.

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Philip Johnson (July 8 1906-January 25, 2005)
Recipient of the first Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1979

Tall Husband and I visited the Chapel of St. Basil at the University of St. Thomas last weekend. It is one of my favorite Houston buildings by the Architect Philip Johnson. With its gold dome, it looks like a modern jewel dropped adjacent to the mid-century-modern campus mall that he designed earlier.

Johnson has always been a favorite architect of mine, so when I was invited to the dedication of his building at the University of Houston, back in the late eighties, I was excited to have the chance to finally meet him. Alas, Tall Husband and I came down with fever and flu on the day of the dedication, so we never met Johnson. Later, a French modernist designer who met him that night, gave us a colorful report of the event.

There are several of Philip Johnson's buildings in Houston. Here is a partial list:

  • The de Menil House, 1950
  • Pennzoil Place, 1973
  • Republic Bank Tower (now NCNB Center), with John Burgee, 1984
  • Transco Tower (now the Williams Tower), 1983
  • University of Houston, College of Architecture Building, 1985
  • Rothko Chapel, 1971
  • St. Basil's Chapel, 1995
  • University of St. Thomas Campus Mall, 1985


  1. Once I was at dinner in Ft. Worth - about 18 years ago and glanced over at the next table and Philip Johnson-with those cute glasses- was sitting right there, almost at my table and I was so starstruck, you would have thought it was Mick Jagger! And everyone at the table was saying, "who? who is that? who? what?" ugh.
    it was such a thrill and I wasnt even able to share it with anyone at my table!

  2. What a great story. Too bad your friends were not design savvy so that they could have enjoyed the "sighting." Wish I had been there!

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