02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST
Architect Philip Johnson loved nothing better than to confound expectations—except when it came to lunch. For decades the dapper man in the owlish glasses had a standing 12:30 reservation at the best table in New York City's celeb-thick Four Seasons restaurant, a masterpiece of modernist architecture that he happened also to have designed in 1959. Without fail he would order the same meal—the daily special and a vermouth-Campari cocktail known as an Americano—while puckishly holding court with a who's who of cultural movers and shakers. "No matter what it was you talked about," says Terence Riley, the chief curator for architecture and design at New York's Museum of Modern Art, "sitting at Philip Johnson's table gave it a sense of true importance."
Johnson's death on Jan. 25 at 98 leaves an empty seat not only at the Four Seasons. In a half-century-long career, the Cleveland-born dean of American architects proved a man for all seasons, with his work evolving from glass box skyscrapers—and his own shockingly minimal 1949 Glass House in Connecticut, where he lived with his partner of 45 years, art dealer David Whitney—to postmodern towers with flamboyant flourishes (see below). "There is only one absolute today," Johnson once noted, "and that is change."