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“Bob ain’t here to make another one“
Frank Gehry remembers Robert Venturi and VSBA’s work
“Their project in London—Sainsbury—I go there and I marvel at it. I’m not a Classicist or an Originalist, I’m not into that, but those columns in the back, at an angle, a slight angle, it does something to your perception. Yeah, I have Venturi love in me.”Gehry went on to postulate that when it came to the preservation of postmodern-era structures, architects and clients are both often at a loss, especially when budget-driven clients are setting priorities. While acknowledging that “culture changes, people are different,” Gehry admitted that “I don’t know that we understand [postmodern architecture], really, or how to deal with it.” With a note of finality, Gehry added, “Bob ain’t here to make another one, though.”
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.View this post on Instagram
Robert Venturi (1925 - 2018) Robert Venturi passed away on the 18th September 2018 Docomomo International wishes to convey the most sincere condolences at the passing of the American architect, pioneer of Postmodernism, Robert Venturi, to his family and friends. #robertventuri #architecture #venturi
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.View this post on Instagram
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.
The Sublime Triangle
Fate of HUD imperils revitalization of an iconic Miami neighborhood
This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
“Made in Opa-locka” (MOL) is an urban revitalization plan—developed by Bonner+Stayner, a collaborative made up of Jennifer Bonner of the Boston architecture firm MALL and Los Angeles’s Christian Stayner of Stayner Architects—for Miami’s Opa-locka neighborhood.
The plan was made possible by President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 under the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which sought to address an overabundance of housing and monocultural zoning regulations that, over time, have stifled economic development in the neighborhood.
The 4.2-square-mile neighborhood was originally developed as a speculative suburb by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss in 1926. Colloquially called “The Triangle,” Opa-locka is best known for its Moorish-inspired architecture: The community was designed by local architect Bernhard Muller and inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. Muller, who was educated at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, designed the homes and public buildings with sculpted stucco forms, domed roofs, and tall minarets. Today, twenty of the original Moorish Revival structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Opa-locka Thematic Resource Area. In recent decades, however, the neighborhood has suffered from long-term disinvestment and the effects of structural poverty.
MOL was formed by the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation—a local nonprofit started in 1980 that has developed 145 single family homes for low-to-moderate-income first-time homebuyers and built over 2,500 units of rental housing in the community since its inception—as a plan to stem population loss and facilitate economic revitalization.
Bonner explained: “MOL acknowledges that building more housing in Opa-locka wasn’t going to work. In fact, there was a surfeit of housing in the community already, as people were escaping to other parts of Miami if they could afford it.” Instead, the architects embarked on a mission to modify existing single-family residences and other structures in the neighborhood in order to create the conditions for greater economic potential. “The housing had to be connected to small-scale commercial activity,” Stayner added, “and that commercial activity needed to be networked, both to benefit the existing residents and to change Opa-locka’s image as Miami’s mecca of crime, churches, and crumbling Moorish architecture.”
The architects designed plans to convert an abandoned church at the edge of the neighborhood into a performance space and movie theater. The church’s hollowed-out nave was infilled with a raked set of stepped platforms that could be used as amphitheater seating, while a corner of the building was sliced off and replaced with a length of glass wall to add a public dimension to the structure. The seating platform conceals beneath it an Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant community bathroom, as well as a space that can be used to house a small lending library, historical exhibitions, and a coffee kiosk.
The designers also envisioned converting an existing home into an after-school-program headquarters and business incubator. By removing, repurposing, and reconfiguring the home’s interior partitions, Bonner+Stayner could create a flexible office setting. They populated the space with different assortments of custom office furniture that could be used to facilitate a variety of programming, and envisioned the space transitioning from a business center during the day to a tutoring facility at night. Here, too, a corner of the building has been lopped off and replaced with an expanse of glass. The MOL plan includes other so-called “micro-enterprise” zones, such as a bicycle repair shop, laundromat, hair salon, and recording studio, aimed at diversifying the functionality of the neighborhood.
Currently, the project is languishing as changes in the presidential administration have cast an uncertain future for not just the project itself, but the existence of HUD in general. After a divisive and starkly anti-urban campaign, former surgeon Ben Carson was nominated and confirmed to lead the agency. Carson is seen by many as being unqualified to handle the reins of an expansive bureaucratic entity tasked with overseeing the United States Federal Government’s programs for home ownership, low-income housing assistance, fair housing, homelessness alleviation, and distressed neighborhood and housing development. The new secretary is also seen as a skeptic of the very programs he has been tasked with leading. Regarding Carson’s appointment as relating to the future of the MOL project, Stayner said, “The future of the project hangs in the balance due to the new administration’s moves to dismantle [HUD] by appointing a skeptic of the anti-poverty programs that HUD oversees, and likely eliminating the funding that will see the project finished.”
- Lonn Combs, Technical Chair
- Chris Perry, Technical Chair
- William Williams, Site Chair
- Mara Marcu, Exhibitions, Website, Social Media
- Brian Ringley, Workshops and Social Media
- Stephen Slaughter, Site Related Events and Publications
- Ming Tang, Website, Site Related Events and Publications
On September 14 Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum reopened its doors after a $30 million makeover. The renovation, carried out by local firm Rios Clementi Hale, enhances the theater’s look and comfort. But most importantly it brings the theater’s somewhat makeshift technical operations into the 21st century.
The renovation was made possible through a $4.9 million allocation from LA County with the addition of donations from several individuals, foundations, and corporations.
The 745 seat circular theater clad in an abstract precast relief by Jacques Overhoff was built in 1967 by modernist architect Welton Becket. It makes up one third of Becket’s original Music Center in Downtown LA’s Bunker Hill, along with the Ahmanson Theater and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Visible changes include a new raised entrance hall, a much larger lobby including better views of its signature Abalone tile mosaic, and a swanky new below ground lounge. The renovation also incorporated new lighting, improved sightlines to the stage, new staircases, new and larger bathrooms, and a fairly conservative but more comfortable décor, including widened seating, new carpeting, and new zebrawood wall paneling and walnut trimmed ceilings. The theater’s dominant colors are now olive and brown, replacing a mostly blue palette.
But the most radical changes to the theater took place backstage, where supporting the cramped, outdated theater’s productions had often been a supreme challenge.
“I thought to myself how can you work here?” said Jennifer Reynolds, a senior associate for Rios Clementi Hale, commenting on the mazelike hallways of the former backstage spaces.
Improvements here include a larger loading dock, more space directly behind the stage, a new green room, new dressing rooms, a new hair and makeup studio, and new prop and wardrobe rooms. Much of this new space was made possible by relocating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to the building’s roof. Work also included installing new electrical systems; new ceiling panels and baffles for better acoustics; new catwalks; a new sound mixing booth; and the addition of elevators replacing a difficult system of ladders and steep stairs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, said Reynolds, was working within the constraints of the theater’s circular shape, which resulted in an endless series of tight wedges. But the firm was able to navigate the geometrical challenge successfully.
“We called it a Swiss watch. It didn’t want to change, but we changed it,” said Reynolds. “The people who work here are giddy.”