Born on May 9, 1910 in Greeley, Colorado, Perry Bertil Johanson grew up in Index, Washington and attended the University of Washington, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1934. As the top student in his graduating class, Johanson received a travelling fellowship and spent 15 months (1931-1932) of study and travel in Europe seeing the architectural highlights of France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, North Africa, Denmark, Holland, and Sweden.
In 1936, Johanson formed a partnership with fellow University of Washington graduates, Francis M. Smith Jr. and Theodore B. Carroll. The practice of Smith, Carroll & Johanson focused on residential, commercial, and hospital work.
Due to the amount and scale of work commissioned by the federal government during WWII in 1943, partners Floyd Naramore and Clifton Brady asked William Bain, and Perry Johansen to join their firm and the NBBJ partnership (known as “The Combine”) formally began. With a talented group of partners, the firm grew quickly and today with over 650 architects and offices in ten major world capitals, NBBJ is among the world’s largest architectural practices.
During the war years, the firm designed nearly six thousand units of housing, a number of schools, hospitals, and countless facilities for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. By 1957 the firm had grown to a staff of 50 and had work in excess of $500 million dollars. In 1960, the firm added three more partners (without changing the name of the firm), a business manager, nine new senior associates and seven new (junior) associates.
While the firm had originated as an “ad-hoc” combination of three design practices: Naramore & Brady, Bain & Overturf, and Smith, Carroll & Johanson, the three firms retained their own offices for a time while also working jointly, before finally merging. While Johanson was a partner from the beginning at NBBJ, Carroll held the position of Senior Associate, and Smith carried on independently. The Smith, Carroll & Johanson partnership lasted until 1951.
Notable projects under the Smith, Carroll & Johanson name include the Waldo Clinic; University National Bank – Parking Branch (1947); the Mell House (1946) in Shelton; and several home designs featured in Better Homes & Gardens Small Homes Guide during the mid-to late 1940s.
As the NBBJ practice expanded they became known for their success and specialization in serving corporate interest with large urban centers, high-rises, and institutional campuses including research buildings.
Among the firm’s more notable projects are the University of Washington Health Sciences Building (1949); the Seattle Federal Reserve Bank (1950); the Seattle Public Safety Building (1951); Seattle’s Veterans Hospital (1952 with McClelland & Jones); Georgia Pacific Plywood Co. Office (1952) in Olympia; the Susan B. Henry Memorial Library (1952) in Seattle; and the I. Magnin & Co. Store (1954) in downtown Seattle.
As with any large firm, design work was spread out among the partners. Using his expertise, Johanson often took on school and hospital work. Known educational projects in which Johanson had a specific design role include four school buildings in Wenatchee, twelve schools for the Bellevue school district (including Clyde Hill Elementary, 1951; Medina Elementary, 1957; Bellevue Jr. High School (1954); Eastgate Elementary School, 1953; and Ashwood Elementary, 1955); the Queen Anne and Loyal Heights field houses (1950); and Index High School (1954).
Johanson was also active in several professional capacities including serving as President of the State Chapter of the AIA (1950-1951); a member of King County Planning Commission (1951-1958 and served a chair 1955-1957); a member of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (1953-1959, serving as chairman 1955-1957); and was chairman of Design Standards Advisory Board for the Seattle Civic Center and Washington Fair Commission. He was named a Fellow of the AIA in 1960.
Johanson and his wife Jean, were often featured in the Society pages of the local newspaper. She was an accomplished sculptor-mosaic artist and together they often gave lectures on art and architecture. Johanson designed and built an art studio for his wife that was featured in several Sunset Magazine books and articles from 1959 to 1968.
Johanson died in Seattle on June 15, 1981 at the age of 71.
- Michael C. Houser