1925–2018

Barry Bergdoll, Robert Miller, Jennifer Bonner, and more remember the late Robert Venturi

Architecture International Obituary Professional Practice
Robert Venturi (Courtesy PennToday)
Robert Venturi (Courtesy PennToday)

Robert Venturi passed away at age 93 on Wednesday, and there has been an overwhelming response from the architecture community. From dedicated disciples to former intellectual foes, many architects and critics have taken a moment to recognize how deep and impactful Venturi’s legacy really is. We collected some of those tributes here.

Adam Yarinsky:

Complexity and Contradiction was truly revelatory for me, as I read it at a moment in my early undergraduate education which coincided with beginning to learn about architectural history and also how to ‘read’ architectural drawings. I never saw it as a prescriptive handbook about making postmodernist forms but rather, in the examples of his work included in the back of the book, as a means of acknowledging architectural practice as critically engaging history (and more generally culture) through design.

The idea of thinking about design as part of a constellation of relationships is the progeny of the understanding kindled through his work.

Winka Dubbeldam:

Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction from now over 50 years ago, was and is a groundbreaking architectural publication. For me it was the book that started my interest in philosophy and critical thinking (theory) in architecture. Venturi was such an important thinker and architect and his work and books influenced so many people in their careers. I personally was very lucky to have met Bob and Denise early on, when I was a young faculty member at Penn and was asked by the then Dean Gary Hack to present my student’s work to the Board of Overseers. I was excited and nervous to note that Bob and Denise both were on the Board, but they were excited to see the work, and we had a great conversation after the presentation. Our thoughts and warm wishes are with Denise.

Barry Bergdoll

One of the first books I bought as a freshman in the 1970s was Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, a proud use of my brand-new MoMA student membership (my first copy has its members $2.96 tag). Venturi opened my eyes to seeing architecture, and to seeing modernist architecture. Far from a manifesto for an as-yet-to-be-named postmodernism, it was a love letter to architecture and a primer in ecumenical appreciation of things as seemingly distant as Lutyens and the vernacular.  My copy must be like so many others—a palimpsest of underlinings and marginalia. Dialogue with Venturi continues to this day, his thoughts as fresh as they are of their moment of origin.

Catherine Ingraham:

I typically write notes when I know I will reread a book. But I have no notes for Robert Venturi who, in concert with Denise Scott Brown, wrote Complexity and Contradiction and Learning from Las Vegas, even though I refer to these books on numerous occasions. Why? Because these texts, coupled with the architectural experimentation they inspired, are still on the main list, still live material embedded in the brains of those of us—young and old—who ran parallel with that epoch. This work made seminal contributions to the difficult category of American architecture and it will continue to contribute to the long, complex, game of the discipline and practice.

Robert L. Miller:

In time, I believe, the built work and projects of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and VSBA will claim an even higher place than the justly praised writings and theories. There may be no better way to honor Venturi’s memory in these next few days than to look again at one of these projects—ideally a built work, on site and in context, and with some of his incomparable drawings for it. This is an architecture that is at last comfortable with real modern American culture, not 1920s or 1950s modern but an unembarrassed, information-rich modern architecture of now.

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Jimenez Lai:

Robert Venturi’s life and work, together with Denise Scott Brown, inspired us to treat architecture as a platform upon which one can learn “everything.” The inclusive mindset Venturi lived by offered us the opportunity to view architecture as an embodiment of human communications that demands all of us to look harder and learn something from every aspect of the everyday around us. Venturi’s disposition towards “everything” as intellectual fodder opened the doors to us to reevaluate the aesthetic framework of the “ugly” or the “ordinary”—whilst enjoying a sense of a humor about it all. We are indebted to Robert Venturi for our continuing desire to keenly observe the world around us, and the sense of lightheartedness from which we tell our stories. Thank you, Mr. Venturi, for shepherding in the qualities of the messy, complex, awkward, and clumsy, so that we can embrace the perfections and imperfections of everything around us. Most importantly, thank you for leading the way to show us that architecture may or may not look like architecture, and architecture communicates on the behalf to the humans inside and outside the architecture.

Jennifer Bonner:

“I like elements which are hybrid rather than ‘pure,’ compromising rather than ‘clean’, distorted rather than ‘straightforward,’ ambiguous rather than ‘articulated’…. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity.” – Robert Venturi (Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture)

Robert Venturi gave us the intellectual, the ordinary, and humor in architecture. An undeniable force that has moved several generations, Venturi and Scott Brown showed us a different way of reading architecture. His “non-straightforward” architecture is infectious and especially so for a 17 year old from Alabama who lived in Las Vegas the summer before entering college. My first book to read on the subject of architecture was Learning From Las Vegas. Thank you.

Craig Konyk:

Surely an important watershed moment.

Ideas carry forward long after we articulate them. He and Denise will forever share the immortality of ideas.

Adam Nathaniel Furman:

It is almost incomprehensible to lose Robert Venturi, so important and central was his spirit for those practicing in my generation. A thinker, teacher, architect, and writer who played a vital role in massively expanding the notion of what academic architecture was, and could be, and how architectural history and our contemporary environment could be looked at with eager and appreciative eyes, and vivid, intellectually curious minds. May his legacy keep flowering in a thousand different receptive places…

Joan Ockman:

Robert Venturi’s contribution to the architectural culture of the last third of the twentieth century was original and profound. Equally a thinker and a maker, his early books Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and Learning from Las Vegas (1972, with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour) were instrumental in articulating the set of ideas that would soon be coined as postmodernism. Projects like the Vanna Venturi House and Guild House translated his theories into built form. While other architects recognized the failures of late modernism by the 1960s, Venturi was among the first to produce a body of work that launched architecture in a genuinely new direction.

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