Johnson's university study centred on history and philosophy, although he interrupted his education with several tours of Europe to see the great monuments. He would later cite these trips, taking in the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral as the pivotal moment at which he became interested in the built environment.
On one of these trips, in Germany, Johnson met Mies van der Rohe and was awakened. The relationship between the two was to develop into a lifetime of competition and collaboration.
Johnson returned to the United States and introduced modern architecture to the American public via a landmark show, 'The International Style; Architecture since 1922' with Alfred H Barr Jnr and Henry Russell Hitchcock.
During the Great Depression and the 1930s, Johnson tried his hand at journalism, reporting on the Nuremburg Rallies and the invasion of Poland. The invasion made him enlist, and when he returned after the war, he finally pursued his career as an architect.
Johnson used glass as his chosen medium. 'The Glass House' designed as his own house in 1949 with glass walls, melting into the landscape. Johnson's work with Mies and Breuer for the Seagram building in New York, completed in 1956, resulted in the bronze and glass 39 storey tower, considered as one of 'the most important buildings of the 20th century.
Johnson was nominated nine times for the Royal Gold Medal.