Posts tagged with "Denise Scott Brown":
In the novel Invisible Cities, written by Italo Calvino, we learn of fantastical cities of monumental silver domes, elevated cities of catwalks, and cities made of cities, where residents reinvent themselves with every move. All these cities are, in fact, Venice. In the exhibition Invisible City, cocurated by Sid Sachs, director of exhibitions at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and Jennie Hirsh, assistant curator, professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at MICA, we learn of fanciful cities of roads lined with giant pretzels, cities where twisting towers rise above verdant parkways, and where anthropomorphic puzzle pieces search for connection. All these cities are, in fact, Philadelphia—visions of Philadelphia, anyway, as dreamt up and occasionally realized by avant-garde artists and architects at midcentury. Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde celebrates the City of Brotherly Love’s unique contributions to art and culture from 1956 to 1976, a time when “Philadelphia was fundamental to urban planning, popular music, post-minimalist sculptural installations, and postmodern architecture.” Featuring significant works from the era, the interdisciplinary exhibition spans four venues and an expansive website, with related talks, tours, and capital-H Happenings happening across the city throughout March. Although the architecture gallery at the Philadelphia Art Alliance will be of particular interest to AN readers, visitors would be remiss to skip past the other venues because Invisible City is best experienced as a whole. The show is an ambitious, sprawling, impressionistic portrait of a creative city at midcentury. It's beautiful and inspiring, but, like an impressionist portrait, hard to understand what you're seeing when you get too close. At the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, sculptures made from stacked brick, planks of wood, and repurposed lawn ornaments fill the space like a minimalist construction site. The artists on display were clearly influenced by their exposure to Marcel Duchamp’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In another venue, plastic paintings by James Harvard, which look like they were produced in an autobody shop, hang just a few feet away from collages of hypothetical highway roadsigns by Venturi and Rauch with Murphy Levy Wurman—including the aforementioned giant pretzels. It feels like there’s an affinity between these works: the Duchampian interest in the found objects: the Venturian embrace of the ordinary, and the shared interest in witty appropriation, but the show doesn’t make any explicit connection between disciplines or ideas. Things aren’t much clearer at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, where the architecture gallery is bookended by grand visions created for the Bicentennial by Venturi & Rauch and Mitchell/Giurgola. Between these monumental proposals are models, drawings, collages, and ephemera representing works that are more modest in scale, but not in concept: an original basswood model of Anne Tyng's 1971 Four-Poster Home; a model of Tyng and Louis Kahn's unbuilt geometric City Tower; hand-corrected pages from Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. It’s an impressive display of some of the best work ever produced by Philadelphia architects. Much of it is familiar. And if it’s not, you’ve got some work to do, because other than name, date, and medium, the exhibit provides no information for most of the work on display. Were these architects all talking to each other? Were they looking at local artists who were looking at Duchamp? Maybe! The highlight of the show, for me, was discovering some lesser-known talents, like David Slovic and the firm Friday. However, I had to conduct my own research to learn about Friday’s complex, contradictory, and delightfully democratic designs. For any context at all that, you have to go online. Thankfully, Invisible City's virtual venue, invisiblecity.uarts.edu, features an extensive chronology and interviews with many of the artists and cultural figures from the era. Whereas the minimal labels and works-behind-glass are cold and distant, the interviews are warm and often personal. Denise Scott Brown shares the story about their fight to preserve South Street, a historic black community that was going to be destroyed for a ring road. Richard Saul Wurman, creator of TED Talks, shares stories about his time as a designer in the offices of Louis Kahn, looking back on his professional experiences with a genuine sense of awe: “Lou changed my life. He taught me you could tell the truth. There were huge penalties...but it was worth it.” I enjoyed my trip through the Invisible City, despite leaving with more questions than answers: Why is Philadelphia a city where Pop Art and postmodernism germinated but never blossomed? Why is it a city that was home to architects who transformed the discipline, but whose contributions in their own town are surprisingly invisible? “It's the ultimate question about our city,” says Slovic in his interview. “Why isn't [Philadelphia] leading the way instead of following?” Why is it an invisible city? Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde runs until April 4, 2020.
Williams College: The Campus Guide By Eugene J. Johnson and Michael J. Lewis, photographs by Ralph Lieberman Published by Princeton Architectural Press MSRP $37.50 Williams College: The Campus Guide is more than a tour of the distinguished liberal arts college in far northwestern Massachusetts. It is rather a scholarly history and informed analysis of the school’s buildings and their role in shaping the visual identity of a hitherto architecturally undocumented place. Williams is the 32nd volume in Princeton Architectural Press’s Campus Guide series, a twenty-year run that began with the University of Virginia in 1999. These handsome handbooks have enlarged our knowledge of collegiate design at some of the more notable American campuses. The quality, alas, varies from title to title. Some appear to be glorified brochures, while the Williams one is a major contribution to the literature. What makes this guide exceptional is that the authors and the photographer are respected architectural historians with decades of teaching experience at Williams. More important, Eugene J. Johnson and Michael J. Lewis insisted that the college give them complete freedom in their opinions and observations. (I declined to do the series guide for my alma mater, as it was apparent that my college wanted total editorial control, and that their goal for the book was more public relations than scholarship.) The Williams authors had additional hurdles. For much of its two-hundred-year history, the school was small, isolated, and not well endowed. Until women were admitted in the 1970s, raising both enrollment and intellectual rigor, the college was home to white prepsters, a place where the fraternity brothers "inhabited the kinds of architecture to which their parents had accustomed them.” Stacked up against architectural powerhouses such as Princeton, Yale, and MIT, Williams’ chroniclers Johnson and Lewis proffer a lot of fascinating history and background that enlivens the discussions of brick and mortar. The early physical presence of Williams was Yankee utilitarian. Starting in the mid-19th century, a notable grab bag of Victorian designers worked here, including Gervase Wheeler, Thomas Tefft, Richard Upjohn, Henry J, Hardenbergh, and J. C. Cady. Much of the design was haphazard, depending upon donor whims. The Olmsted Brothers drew up Williams' first campus plan in 1902. Tastes tended to the safely conservative through the 1950s. Perry, Shaw & Hepburn, architects of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, designed a student center in the default campus style, Colonial Revival. Yet, college president Harry Garfield hired Ralph Adams Cram, the brilliant campus designer who shaped Princeton into an architectural masterpiece. The great Gothicist felt that his interpretation of English Georgian was more appropriate to the New England school. As always, Cram demonstrated a mastery of proportion, materials, and appearance. His Freshman Quadrangle is singled out as “the loveliest passage of the entire Williams campus.” Despite hosting an avant-garde art department–a famous incubator of architectural historians and museum directors—Williams did not get a Functional Modern building until the 1960s. The Architects Collaborative (TAC) was hired to craft a campus plan, while the college awarded an honorary doctorate to TAC founder Walter Gropius. Jumping somewhat timidly into the Modern era, Williams secured successful dormitory complexes by Benjamin Thompson and Mitchell-Giurgola and a dining hall by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, along with a dreadful library by Harry Weese. In the 1970s Charles Moore extended the art museum. This was “an adventurous move for a college that had traditionally gone with competent professionals rather than architects on the cutting edge.” Due to strained college finances, Moore paid for what he called “Ironic columns” on the museum's exterior, itself a riff on the architect's concurrent Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans. Despite commissioning such leading names, building at Williams remained ad hoc and episodic. A stunning library by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is offset by William Rawn's Center for Theatre and Dance, a gratuitous “expression of architectural ego,” the placement of which truncated a bold axial plan by Denise Scott Brown. Missed opportunities include an unrealized Steven Holl art building and a somewhat flaccid student center by James Stewart Polshek. The combination Chandigarh-and-New-England-styled resort hotel was “chosen from a long list of distinguished firms,” including Venturi Scott Brown and the Helsinki uber-Modernists Heikkinen + Komonen. Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen were interviewed, along with Alvaro Siza, Tadao Ando, and another architect (the names were never revealed to the public) about adding a wing to the Clark Art Institute. Ando’s building is called “a disappointment," primarily for its planning, and the wall of donor names, “sized according to the amplitude of their donations,” draws particular scorn. This biography of Williams College and its architecture is told as a family epic: A complicated life, full of intrigue, might-have-beens, and triumphs. Or as Adam Falk, president from 2010 to 2017, writes in a foreword, the guide is “historically insightful, compulsively readable, visually stunning, and infused with a healthy dose of irreverence.”
Below is a transcription of Denise Scott Brown's comments at the June 15 memorial service for the late Robert Venturi at the University of Pennsylvania's Fisher Fine Arts Library. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. It’s lovely to see you all. There are some recent friends and also people I hadn’t seen since 1960. One came up, a planner: I once said to him, “That’s not suitable for high school, it’s not even suitable for elementary school,” and I wondered what he became. He said, “well I have been the ambassador to Burundi.” That makes me so happy. He was wonderful then and obviously is now. Bill, who lived in our basement, has talked about Bob in the studio. We’d hear him say, “This is a terrible idea… but wait, let’s see.” He would rather take it up than say, “oh no, we couldn’t do that.” But he might say, “I haven’t understood the system of the building yet.” Few people knew he thought that way or knew his strong ability to go from analysis to synthesis over and again—to be extremely rigorous. But I respected him for it. I’m happy we are holding this memorial here, because the Furness library has been such an important place for us. Bob and I met here. But he had, in fact, saw Robert Scott Brown and me at a presentation our planning studio made to Lou Kahn in 1959. He was very impressed by Robert, who had stayed up one night until 3 a.m. with Bill Alonso who had taught him rent theory, so Robert could explain how roads influence the design of buildings and cities. I had merely noted that Lou Kahn had with him a young assistant. And then within two weeks Robert was killed. I went back home and returned to Penn in the fall a sad, young widow. But I graduated and started teaching in 1960, and within the first week or so there was a faculty meeting. At the AA you as a student could enter anyone’s jury. I had done this at Penn, and that was another reason Bob knew me slightly. And at the faculty meeting I did it again. “Why are you taking this building down?” I asked. I had seen in London the Horniman Museum and Whitechapel Gallery of the architect Townsend, and the Furness Library, especially its scale jumps, reminded me of them. I was very interested in scale jumps, and the Mannerism they were part of. Seen as aberrant, Mannerism was reappraised in England in the 1940s. Nicholas Pevsner, its rediscoverer, and one of his students, here tonight, and also John Summerson, guided me through Mannerism. I listened two years running to Summerson’s AA lectures on Classicism, travelled in England, France and Italy, with Pevsner’s book and Robin Middleton’s itinerary, and learned a great deal. Bob grew up in Philadelphia. He was a moony little child. His parents took him out of Quaker school when they found his desk in the corridor outside the classroom. He was apparently talking too much. An old teacher friend of his mother said, “send him to a structured and disciplined place,” That was Episcopal Academy. “I went there,” Bob said, “and went underground.” The school was suitable—structured, disciplined, but very kind. And we love Jim Squires, our client for its chapel. But there were only two little Italian boys in the school, and in history class, the teacher said, “immigrants from the North were preferable to those from the South.” Bob and I shared that. I had to put up with anti-Semitism at my prep school in South Africa. But I believe that being different—having skewed views—is useful to creative people. Our wayward eyes quickly joined forces, we shared mannerism and being marginal. This made for a very interesting five years that few knew we had shared. The going story is that Bob went to Rome, discovered Mannerism in the library, came back, and started to do it. Yes, he learned about it in Rome, but 12 days before he left. And can you imagine Bob sitting in the library when the whole of Rome is outside to explore? I’ve seen him in Rome, visited churches with him many times. And all those, they were baroque churches. He went where Giedion sent him. He saw a jillion little towns—hill towns—all over. And he got to Egypt with friends. When was the time to do all that reading? But about twelve days before he left, Jim and Sally Gresham took Bob and Chuck Brickbauer to see the work of Armando Brasini on the outskirts of Rome. He was a fascist, still living in his remarkable palazzo, and Bob visited him. Back in America, he [Bob] had lots to do. His Dad was very ill. He had to run the fruit and produce business, which we later ran together. It was three blocks from the architecture office. Long-haired, egg-head fruit merchant—that’s part of him—Princeton gentleman with a southern Italian opera background. It was these mixtures that we started with. And Dave Crane said, “Denise you should marry Bob Venturi, and I’ll invite you both to dinner.” By the time he did, we had already had dinner. We started by going to his office and seeing his designs, then he took me to a Princeton ball game. Bob went to a “ball game” by going to the library while the ball game was played, and when it was over, his friends wouldn’t tell him who had won. But in the library, I found Lutyens’ four volumes on his houses. I had had two years of lectures on Mannerism with Summerson, and had traveled to Venice using Robin Middleton’s list of buildings and paintings to see on the way to Venice and then on to Rome. And, though we had a lot to share, Bob had not seen those books. I said, “You mean you’re interested in Lutyens and you haven’t seen these?” Well, he went and bought them and within two weeks he knew them better than I did. He was thrilled with what I had learned, and I was equally thrilled with what he learned from two years of lecture with Donald Drew Egbert at Princeton. At Penn, we taught consecutive semesters of a theories course, surveying architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Mine was an overview of them all with selected faculty from each department, introducing their field and their interests. I gave one lecture, but my role was to pull it all together. Although I was a faculty member, Holmes treated me as a TA. I had to give out photographs on boards for students to draw from, because learning to draw was part of this course, as well as learning some modern architectural classics. Soon I was getting killed by my class. “Don’t you see that we’re graduate students!” So I broke the rules and defined my job as linking theory and practice via drawing as Holmes had wanted, but having them choose their examples and analyzing them via the subject matter of the lecture to lead toward studio design problems. We shared them with each other and with Bob. He was running the Spring semester course on theories of architecture. As Holmes said, “You went to Princeton, you know history.” But the underlying message was, you didn’t go to Harvard so you won’t be staying here long, and it applied to both of us. Meanwhile, teaching together, putting our two courses together, was all sorts of fun. And that’s what Bob was mainly doing. The archive here at Penn is full of his notes. Now he sat in this library all the time, working 80 hours a week finding slides and reading on the very wide topics he used to augment the Vitruvian components of architecture from three to fifteen and giving a lecture on one each week, surveying how different eras of architecture, for example, how light was let into buildings. Robert Scott Brown and I had done a great deal of photography while traveling. We spent a month photographing in Venice, seeing what we were doing as making a record to take home to South Africa. But it grew on route to showing ideas through photography. At Penn, I used mine for teaching. Then I said, “Hey Bob, I’ve got slides that you can use for your lecture on scale.” We began sharing photographs and helpful book references. Then Bob, having seen the connections I was making between theory and studio for my course, asked me to devise equivalent work topics for his. Eventually, I did so formally by running the tutorials for both courses during the last semester, we collaborated at Penn. I ran the tutorials, the drawing and research exercises, and the link to studio. And the next place you’ll find that type of work is in the programs for the Learning from Las Vegas studio. Later I learned that when we left Penn, the performance in studio went way down, because research-design connections were no longer made. So that’s the story from one side. On the other were the planners. They were like Rabbinical students jumping up on the tables and arguing, and I argued with them. I also argued with Paul Davidoff, without leaving my seat. We occupied two small rooms across a corridor from each other in a basement studio. We merely leaned over to argue from our seats and across the corridor and groups of students would form around the doors to listen. Then we might go upstairs to the coffee machine and a larger group might form. As far as I could see, that was the only time planners and architects willingly came together. But the strength of the planning school was a wonderful strength for me and the basis for connections between Las Vegas and architecture that Bob and I later made, and things like that. Bob was fascinated by the social planners. His mother was a socialist and a pacifist, so he could hear Paul Davidoff when he said, “Why do you have to go as far as Ville Radieuse, the city isn’t that bad. It’s pretty good. It’s almost all right.” And that’s where Bob got, “Is not main street almost all right?” that comes from Paul. Bob was very open to what was going on in my West Philadelphia studio and the planning school in general. But no one else in architecture was interested at that time. So when I went to Las Vegas, Bob was the only colleague I invited to come with me. And when planning his theories course, delved with my help into urban and planning thought. And I could help with early Modernism. His research files in the archive, contain a note saying “Function and beauty, Denise.” He is not saying I epitomize both. He says, “remember what she had to say about how the early Modern functionalists saw that relationship,” and he included my information in his lecture on function. I’m more than pleased to explain to you what Bob meant and also how I saw my role of linking architecture and planning, as that of a circus horse rider as the horses spread apart. But sadly Nixonism and Reganism separated architecture and planning until connection was almost impossible to make. It still is. Other things happened, so it didn’t work that way, but architects took strongly to these ideas as published in Learning from Las Vegas and turned them creatively to their own talents to something that designers could use and love. I have wanted to show you that our first five years of collaboration were an amazingly happy time. That’s what I was so happy about. And I’m happy about the rest, though our careers were a long, slow, gently sloping motion. And Bob, for much of his career, felt like Milton in his sonnet, “On His Blindness,” where, “that one talent which is death to hide, / Lodg’d with me useless.” Bob was a frustrated young architect because he could design so much more than he was hired to do. But slowly we built up, and eventually one day, after arguing with ourselves, we realized we really had achieved what we wanted to achieve. And sure, thirty of our projects could fit into one of I.M. Pei’s, but I feel I.M., an architect I much respect, would have liked to be the architect of the National Gallery. Just before he died, Bob said to me, “I’m a very, very old man.” And he was. And he thought he would die at the age his father had died, 69. And he was happy indeed at all that had happened despite our problems. You’ve told us how wonderful it’s been having us in your lives. And I’m telling you how terribly important you are to ours.
Rejection; we're all familiar with having our ideas turned down. Now, from August 23 through October 4 at the Banvard Gallery at The Ohio State University's Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture, curators Team B Architecture & Design have reached out to architects and designers for Rejected, a show that will give rejected work its due. That includes interiors, streetscapes from Denise Scott Brown, cabins, and mediations on what failure and rejected schemes mean in the grand scheme of academia, when traditionally, winning proposals are the ones that are preserved for future generations to study. What's lost when we let winners write the narrative? Rejected, in the same vein as Stanley Tigerman’s 1976 counter-show to 100 Years of Architecture in Chicago, seeks to widen the narrative about what has "worth" in the field. The text that follows was written by the Architect's Newspaper's Executive Editor Matt Shaw for the show, and examines those who voluntarily wrap themselves in the mantle of rejection and what that entails. Rejected can be found at 275 West Woodruff Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, 43210. Graphic design for the show was done by Garrett Corcoran. I like the topic of "rejection." According to urbandictionary.com, a "reject" is "Someone who gets rejected from a group of friends or basiclly [sic] life. For example, someone might say, "Go away you fuckin [sic] reject, you have no friends, we all hate you." This seems like a great starting point for a show.[i] [Redacted][ii] Rejection seems like an important topic in today's world. A quick search on 2knowmyself.com, generates a series of user-submitted questions, such as "Does rejection mean you are ugly".[iii] A deep reflection on love and self-identity, this seemingly juvenile query seems to be at the heart of your show. What does it mean to be rejected, and to be a reject? Within our hyper-capitalist neoliberal society, technology has played an increased role in how we see ourselves. According to South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book Psychopolitics (Verso, 2018), smartphones and social media are commodified to the point where they have tapped into our psyches to exploit us. They accomplish this by creating a system where we exploit ourselves by constantly monitoring our own behavior, checking for likes and affirmation in the virtual sphere. It is like Foucault's panopticon, except even more abstract and sinister, as each of us is our own guard. Rather than a biopolitics—the organization and exploitation of bodies in an industrial world—Han calls this neoliberal technological exploitation psychopolitics, or the exploitation of the psyche. “Instead of forbidding and depriving it works through pleasing and fulfilling. Instead of making people compliant, it seeks to make them dependent.”[iv] If neoliberalism wants us to seek affirmation, then seeking and celebrating rejection must be a healthy alternative. Team B is kind of like the incels of the architecture world. What is an incel? It is an involuntary celibate, a person who cannot have sex, despite wanting to. It is a state of constant and nihilistic rejection, which is referred to as “inceldom.” In dark corners of the internet, the incels have created an online subculture. At its worst, these incels become radicalized and turn to violence, including mass shootings. [Redacted][v] In the 2014 Isla Vista shootings, gunman Eliot Rodger left a manifesto, which has been regarded as an incel hagiography, and referenced by other mass shooters since. In My Twisted World The Story of Elliot Rodger by Rodger, he says:
Humanity… All of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women. It has made me realize just how brutal and twisted humanity is as a species. All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life amongst humanity, but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me...My life didn’t start out dark and twisted. I started out as a happy and blissful child, living my life to the fullest in a world I thought was good and pure.[vi]Rather than a violent band of murderous incels, Team B is more aligned with the original incels, a benevolent and supportive sexless bunch. [Redacted][vii] Ironically, for Rodger, the incel community also did not start out as a twisted, sick group of internet creeps who threaten violence against people who are sexually active, which they call "Chads and Stacys." [Redacted][viii] The incel group was founded in 1993 by a Canadian student named Alana. "Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project" was a sincere community for "anybody of any gender who was lonely, had never had sex or who hadn't had a relationship in a long time." Alana eventually abandoned the project and handed it off to another user, but the group slowly devolved into the radicalized, misogynistic group we know today. Rejection at its best becomes a rallying cry for a group or an ideology. Denise Scott Brown, in the Rejected show, describes how the rejection of three Venturi Scott Brown & Associates' projects was a systematic disavowal of the postmodern architecture style.
We feel that renovation of Franklin Court and the planned renovation of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art exemplify a rejection not only of design but of a whole style. The renovations of these two landmark designs demonstrates a dismissal of the fun and playful spirit of postmodernism in favor of the minimalistic look of contemporary design.[ix]Philip Johnson also used rejection as a positive as he needled the Architectural League of New York, which eventually led to the International Style show at MoMA. According to Robert A.M. Stern,
In 1931 he co-curated (with [Alfred E.] Barr and Julian Levy) the independent show Rejected Architects, which created a public furor and paved the way for the International Style exhibit. It featured work by young architects that didn’t meet the requirements of the conservative Architectural League. The show was staged in a rented storefront and Johnson hired a sandwich-board man to parade in front of the League’s offices with the message “See Really Modern Architecture Rejected by the League.” The League was outraged and tried to have the man arrested, but the attendant front-page publicity insured the show’s success and brought modern architecture to the public’s attention for the first time in the United States.[x]In the Rejected show, there is no stylistic agenda, because architecture today has no singular, dominant ideology. Rather, the exhibition is a performative rejection of the culture of neoliberal psychopolitical acceptance. While some more conventional commercially successful architects actively rejected the invitation to be in the Rejected show, many of the participants proudly flaunt being rejected by the arbiters of institutional taste and the decision-makers of the capitalist development community. Who has the power to accept being a reject? For many of the participants in the show, the academic backdrop allows rejection to be taken as a positive, a wink-and-nod, that it is ok to fail. Outside of the capitalist modes of production, it is a much-needed respite and represents a strong bond between practitioners, if not stylistically, then in a way of operating within a certain lane of the current context. Instead of an architectural act of violence, what we have here is a group therapy session for the happy-go-lucky rejects who take pride in their status as architectural incels. [i] Urban Dictionary. “Reject”. Urbandictonary.com. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=reject (accessed August 5, 2019). [ii] This sentence was rejected for being insulting to the curators. [iii] 2knowmyself. “Does rejection mean you are ugly”. 2knowmyself.com. <https://www.2knowmyself.com/does_rejection_mean_you_are_ugly (accessed August 5, 2019). [iv] Byung-Chul Han. Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. Brooklyn, NY : Verso, 2017 [v] This sentence was rejected for being too offensive in general. [vi] Elliot Rodger. My Twisted World The Story of Elliot Rodger. <https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1173808-elliot-rodger-manifesto.html> (accessed August 5, 2019). [vii] This sentence was rejected for being too offensive in general. [viii] ibid. [ix] Denise Scott Brown, email message to John Stoughton. July 1, 2019. [x] Robert A.M. Stern. “Philip Cortelyou Johnson (1906-2005).” The Architect’s Newspaper. <https://archpaper.com/2005/02/philip-courtelyou-johnson> (accessed August 5, 2019).
This interview of Denise Scott Brown is excerpted from Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown, an exhibit held at the Architekturezentrum Wien in Vienna, now available in book form via Park Books. The interview was conducted on May 22, 2018, before the passing of Robert Venturi in September, and revised on May 7, 2019, by Denise Scott Brown and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum: What are your great achievements? Denise Scott Brown: I had to live through a difficult childhood, not given to self-esteem. I had to live through the tragedy of my [first] husband’s death. I had to find the gumption to do the things I needed to do and thought I couldn’t. Somehow I got through all that and made an oeuvre I feel proud of, sort of. Having said that, I think I’ve managed to find a way to live with uncertainty, which was difficult for me. And perhaps I’ve managed to help some others do that. Along with Bob, I think I’ve worked through issues of form and design and communication and brought all that together into “a beautiful table with four legs”—comparable to Vitruvius’s three-legged table. Out of that, I’ve tried to draw a beauty, but an agonized beauty. And the kinds of people I seem to associate best with are the ones with a certain striving for the same. That’s one side. On the other, I’m happy to have helped to define advocacy architecture and to have practiced some of it. I’m happy to have helped promote women in architecture. And now I end my career by trying to sum up what needs to be summed up. But I’m missing the thing I became addicted to, which was design. That was my great joy—but it was complex with me. I’m also very, very happy to have lived beside Bob and to have managed the sturm und drang—and to have jointly brought out work we could both be proud of. And to have produced a son who’s having a great career, who has found his passion, who will go on finding passions. We worked in this house all our lives. Now that it’s a home office, you find someone working in every room, tucked in a chair here or there. One of them said, “I’ve never been in a house where everyone there both lives and works.” So I’ve called this our Peaceable Kingdom—mostly peaceable. JET: The retirement that others look forward to is not the retirement you want for yourself? DSB: I’ve got too many things to do! All these people come to talk to me and I love talking to them. They ask why I don’t make room to smell the roses, and I say, the roses are right on my drawing board! I’m returning to the things I began early in life and had to leave off because of professional work—and hindsight makes them better. When he asked, I told our financial adviser: “Bob and I won’t go on cruises. We just want to go on being elderly academics.” He replied, “Well, if you do go, please consider going on a tramp steamer and not by the QE2 [the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner].” So I keep asking myself, am I buying the QE2? We’ve tried to donate money to charity as much as we could. One great opportunity was an unexpected windfall. One day a voice on the phone with a South African accent asked me: “Is this Mrs. Ventuuuri?” He said I had an account in South Africa, produced from a very small investment my father had made for each of his children in 1945. By 1985 it had become a tidy sum. JET: This sounds like such a scam! DSB: It was a scam. He was a bounty hunter. He said, “You have to sign this document and let me take a third of the money.” And I realized there was nothing else I could do, so I signed—and he disappeared. The rest of the money waited in the account. I wanted it to go to students at my old school—some student whose teachers thought she could do better, a B-student who could be an A-student. When I was there, I saw our headmistress take kids who were, let’s say, raw and rough, and after they were with us a few years they would get into medical school. She believed academic intelligence is one kind of intelligence but not the only kind. She had ways of teaching people and maintaining students’ self-esteem. And she did it for me—she discovered things about me that she really appreciated and her appreciation really helped me grow. I hoped the school would still be like that, with that sense of community. So the school did what I requested: They found Gugu Ndlovu, daughter of a Zulu teacher. And she finished there and did very well, and when she applied to all the medical schools in South Africa, she got into every one. And for me...it was... [Silence. Denise cries. She clutches her dress with her hands, looking down.] Funny things are...moving. Some things are moving... So, anyway, nevertheless, I didn’t hear from the school for a while. But recently I met a young South African woman traveling with her Venezuelan boyfriend, both going back to South Africa. And I said, please, would you go to my school and talk to them? We arranged for the money to be placed with their bursary fund, to quickly go where it’s intended. And when that money is given, it should be given in the name of Robert Scott Brown. And so this is solved at the end of my life. It’s a nice story.
I have been a circus horse rider between architecture and urbanism most of my life. But reining together animals that have been tugging apart over five decades has made for a bumpy ride. My role as an architect and planner takes in more than physical planning or urban design. I have also penetrated beyond both architecture and planning toward the social sciences at one end and art and iconography at the other. When you have all these systems and all their functions and all their rules, it helps to understand Mannerism. Because these systems have to bend, some more and some less, to get something that works—but it’s also a way to look for beauty. That’s my view of functionalism. It has a moral component I uphold but an aesthetic component I love.
I have been a circus horse rider between architecture and urbanism most of my life. But reining together animals that have been tugging apart over five decades has made for a bumpy ride. My role as an architect and planner takes in more than physical planning or urban design. I have also penetrated beyond both architecture and planning toward the social sciences at one end and art and iconography at the other. When you have all these systems and all their functions and all their rules, it helps to understand Mannerism. Because these systems have to bend, some more and some less, to get something that works—but it’s also a way to look for beauty. That’s my view of functionalism. It has a moral component I uphold but an aesthetic component I love.
In a 2013 video interview now available online, Denise Scott Brown reflects on a variety of aspects of her career, from her youth in Rhodesia, to her professional career in the United States. In the video, author Jochen Becker asks her about the influence her personal life had on her professional formation for hismetroZones Global Prayers project. Becker asks about what she calls her "African perspective," which she says was informed by studying in South Africa under the apartheid regime. The interview then roams over her thoughts on modernism, her photography, and her experience with Las Vegas, Levittown, and Venice. She spends ample time describing her unconventional wedding ceremony to Robert Venturi, and she talks about her first interaction with a young Rem Koolhaas and her favorite building of his (she likes the IIT building, but not the CCTV tower). She also talks about the motivation behind the book she was writing at the time. "I've named myself architecture's grandmother," Scott Brown said. "My interest now is in putting architecture safely to bed before I put myself to bed."
Denise Scott Brown photographs taken from 1956 to 1966 will be on view at Carriage Trade Gallery in New York City starting Thursday, October 25. The images in the exhibit, Scott Brown says, are “about architecture,” but if they are viewed also as art it’s a byproduct. They reflect her interest in “automobiles, cities of the American Southwest, social change, multiculturalism, action, everyday architecture, 'messy vitality,' iconography, and Pop Art," all themes throughout her career. “Waywardness,” Scott Brown claims in the small catalog on sale at the gallery, “lay in more than my eye.” Carriage Trade is located in a dense, image-packed Chinatown block on Grand Street, a fitting site for this exhibition of "touristy" color photographs of Venice and Las Vegas. The photographs are on sale at the gallery for a very reasonable price. Ask to speak with Peter Scott, the director of Carriage Trade. The show is co-organized with PLANE-SITE and Andrés Ramirez. There will be a formal opening Thursday, October 25, 6–8 p.m. Carriage Trade Gallery 277 Grand Street, Second floor October 25–December 22, 2018
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. Deborah Berke: With the passing of Robert Venturi, Architecture has lost one of its greats. But to say Bob belonged to Architecture with a capital “A” is to limit the scope of his contribution. Bob was an artist, an adventurer, an agitator. Architecture, design, planning, and writing were his media, but his goal—brilliantly achieved—was to change culture. Alongside his equally gifted collaborator, Denise Scott Brown, he opened the profession to new possibilities and rewrote the canon of architectural history. He also developed a visual language—infused with wit, color, pattern, and erudition—that reverberates far beyond his buildings. Barbara Bestor: Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction (written in 1966 the year I was born!) was a revelation for me as a youngster. Though I was immersed in neo-modernist design school, I was drawn to the crazy formal and informal conversations he described between architects from ancient Rome to Victorian England... It taught me that architectural discourse is in fact buildings IN DISCOURSE with other buildings! Also with cities and with people and with art! This is still big news in our current “post-human” design moment! Plus who doesn’t love seeing the decorated sheds of Las Vegas as lovingly explicated by Venturi and his partner Denise Scott-Brown? Personally I relish checking out the lovely little “bird houses” of Block Island (1979 Coxe-Hayden) every summer, and they have had a direct impact in freeing me to reinterpret vernacular forms in my own work. Jean-Louis Cohen: In an age of despair in respect to the practice of architecture, as vulgarized modernization had upstaged poetic modernism, Robert Venturi’s 1966 book came as a revelation. It allowed for a reconciliation between Le Corbusier, Aalto, Bernini and Balthazar Neumann, recruiting apparently incompatible buildings to cast a fascinating menagerie of shapes and patterns. If anything, his writings and his early projects stimulated for my generation the appetite for culture and the ability to play with single objects and the city at large. Bob reminded us that, before generating form, architecture is a discipline of observation, alert to the everyday landscape, as well as towards its own linguistic fetishisms and obsessions. Neil M. Denari: The sphere of influence that Robert Venturi constructed over the course of his estimable career is much larger than we think, because the Postmodern label did not, in the end, constrain the ways in which architects with many ideologies have approached and utilized his theories. I feel like Complexity and Contradiction is the architectural equivalent of Gödel’s Theory of Incompleteness- a set of ideas (maybe even laws) that outlines how complexity is not simply the antidote to boredom, but more importantly, that it is a persistent contemporary condition. His shadow is long, his ideas are transcendent, and I, for one, will always owe a debt to his immense contributions to the field.
Peter Eisenman: Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, the first book of architectural theory by an American architect, opened the way for a generation of young architects – Charles Moore, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, and more – to challenge the platitudes of corporate practice in the 1960s and ’70s. In combining the best of European architectural history—Vignola, Soane, Moretti, etc.—with contemporary iconography, Venturi developed an idea of complexity that became the critical tool for stanching the tide of laissez-faire modernism and changing the face of American architecture. I for one will miss him and his dry sense of humor. Mark Foster Gage: I remember about 20 years ago when I was considering going to graduate school for architecture I met, of all people, Robert Venturi. We ended up having drinks and both got not-quite-but-close drunk. He said, "Don't ever become an architect... unless there's absolutely nothing else you can possibly do..." I was mortified! I thought oh my god, what am I doing if THIS guy who’s at the top of the pile is telling me it’s hard (I also remember thinking that is really was all I could possibly do—the alternative being falling back on my mostly medieval art history degree...). Only in retrospect did I realize that what he was conveying was truly sage advice. Architecture is neither an easy path nor a mere job--but more of an infatuation that involves a significant amount of struggle. He knew this, and it was evidenced in his own work, for instance when he, the ur-figure of postmodernism, was on the cover of Architect Magazine quoted as saying "I am not nor have ever been a postmodernist." You can see the struggle in his work between high modernist training and the whimsy of pop culture. To this day I think the strength of his work is the struggle to reconcile these two directions—rather than merely opening the floodgates of postmodernism through his writing and early work. There was discomfort in his work—hard effort. I don’t think the postmodernism of Venturi was easy and frivolous, I think it was complicated, rich, detailed and intelligent—qualities we should all be so lucky to imbue in our work as we struggle through our own careers for this difficult but beautiful infatuation of ours.View this post on Instagram
Dan Graham: Bob Venturi was one of the one or two best American architects and was a great writer on architecture, architectural history, and theory. His love of pop art infuriated my friend Richard Serra and that is why I wrote a defense of him in Artforum. He criticized Mies, but in the end, came to appreciate him and understand his importance. His background was as an Italian-American and Quaker, and he loved American and English vernacular architecture, billboards and shopping malls. Denise Scott Brown said he loved to watch English soap operas on PBS and he had a great sense of humor. I was lucky to meet him. Paul Goldberger: I am accustomed to thinking of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas as books from a long time ago, and indeed they are. But I don’t know if there could be any better way than to honor Robert Venturi than to open both of them again, and to be reminded that these are, in fact, timeless books: anchored in the 1960s and 1970s, yes, but transcending those years to speak to us now and for a long time to come. Complexity teaches you how to see architecture, and to understand how it is always about both/and, not either/or. Las Vegas, which he wrote with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown as well as Steven Izenour, shows us how architecture is the making of sign and symbol as much as the making of space, and points the way toward the conflation of electronic media and architecture. Both books were prescient, and far more important than the air of nostalgia that surrounds them is the pleasant reminder of their continued meaning. Bob Venturi, writer of the “gentle manifesto,” was himself gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and absolutely driven. He was as ambitious as anyone in the architecture business, but his ambition was softened by a connoisseur’s love of form, a critic’s incisive perception, and a tourist’s enthusiasms about the world. His architecture was a series of exuberant, inventive, and incisive mannerist explorations, modern even as it appeared to turn modernism on its head. We first met when I was still an undergraduate, and thanks to an introduction from Vincent Scully, I had the chance to talk with him and Denise about their work, a conversation that led to a piece about them in The New York Times Magazine that marked the beginning of my life as an architecture critic, or at least a paid one. What I remember best about that interview, beyond how gracious both Bob and Denise were to a young writer with almost no credentials, was the fact that it took place in a sprawling mansion outside of Philadelphia that was owned by an old friend of theirs for whom Bob had designed a house that was never built. The reason the house, which would have been the most important of Bob’s career up to that point—this was 1971—never went ahead was telling: before construction started, the old house came up for sale, and Bob told his friend he didn’t see how any new house could be as appealing as that old one, and recommended he buy it instead of building the Venturi house. What other architect would willingly say such a thing to a client? Bob was incapable of dissembling. Most people who are as congenitally honest as he was see the world in simplistic, black-and-white terms; Bob always saw it as nuanced, richly complex, ironic, defined by “richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning.” It is that combination—utter directness tempered by an absence of dogma and ideology, a penchant for truthfulness together with a mind for nuance and subtlety—that marked Bob, and shaped both the extraordinary words and the great architecture that are his legacy.View this post on Instagram
Sean Griffiths: It goes without saying that he and Denise were huge influences on me personally and on FAT in general. They have also been incredibly supportive over the years. For us, they were simply the most important architects of the second half of the 20th century. They managed the incredible feats of producing highly influential buildings, creating a new architectural movement, and my god—those books—they changed everything,all the while remaining outsiders, never fully accepted by the establishment. For me Learning from Las Vegas is the most important book written on architecture and urbanism in the last 50 years. It completely changed the way we judge architecture, think about places and their meanings, represent space and analyze the relationship between people and environments. It was so much more than a book “about” Las Vegas. It was a totally new way to look at the built environment. Sam, Charles, and I will never forget our first visit to Philadelphia when Bob and Denise welcomed us into their home and took us on a tour of the Mother's house, the Louis Kahn house across the road (in which Bob delighted in pointing out which of the ideas in it were his—most of them according to him!), the Guild House, and their office. They then took us to dinner and we talked about our mutual love of the Sopranos opening titles and he and Denise professed a love for English sitcoms—“What’s the name of the one with the women priest?” he asked, referring to The Vicar of Dibley. We just thought it was hilarious that here we were with our architectural heroes and we were actually discussing The Vicar of Dibley of all things. Best of all, Bob and Denise attended the lecture we gave at UPenn and afterward saluted us with the immortal words, “Terrific…keep up the bad work!” I feel deeply honored to have known them both. Charles Holland: Robert Venturi was without a doubt my favorite architect. His work has been a huge and constant source of inspiration to me. Not just the buildings but the way he combined the, with research, teaching and writing of the highest order. He wrote not one but two enormously influential and undeniably important books, the second with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown. Together they opened up architecture to so many things; to an appreciation of the everyday and to a way of learning from the things around us. Of all the buildings, my favourite is the Trubek House, one of a pair shingle-clad cottages realised on Nantucket Island in 1970. It has it all this house: the plays of scale, the complex spatiality, the tension between architecture and ordinary life, the two never fully resolved. Robert Venturi’s importance cannot be overstated and he leaves the world of architecture a much poorer place. RIP Bob. Sam Jacob: I don’t think I could express how important Bob Venturi (and Denise) were to FAT, and to me personally. I really came across their work in the bargain bookshops of the mid 90's, picking up that amazing book on the Mother House for nothing. Airbrushed out of the architectural history I'd been taught at school, their work seemed so amazingly fresh and relevant to an age of information and communication (remember the zeal and optimism of digital culture at that time!). So free of all that stale reactionary nonsense that had surrounded them (especially in the UK at the time of Prince Charles' National Gallery interventions) we could find our own resonances. Sampling, cutting and pasting, copying, distorting, playing with conventions, and understanding architecture as a form of information itself, I concocted a private dream that was part Venturi part Marshall McLuhan that helped forge a different path through millennial times and digital culture. Meeting them both in Philly at a small show at Penn we had was incredible, with Bob dropping aphorisms left, right, and center that still stay with me as he toured the show: “Not boring but in a good way,” “keep up the bad work.” I still don't know what he meant when he told me I wrote like Abraham Lincoln. He made us feel like co-conspirators, and we in turn felt like we could learn (and steal) so much from him that could restart the engine of a certain strand of architectural attitudes towards culture and design that had stalled. It's not overhyped or sentimental to stress his absolute centrality to the very idea of architecture in the late 20th and early 21st century. It's why after a long time ignored and shunned by the architectural mainstream, his and Denise’s work has become so important to a younger generation of architects. Ugly and ordinary forever!View this post on Instagram
Charles Jencks: Robert Venturi changed architecture (hard), for the better (even harder) but with some unfortunate consequences (the one-liner-anti-symbolism), and many of his small early buildings and a few of his large later works are epics. Their drawing and argument inspired two generations. His writing was most usually in the service of a polemic, and his version of complexity predictive of the way the sciences of the twenty-first century would turn out. I was saddened I couldn’t get Bob to write on the second stage of Postmodernism, but as a good leader of the movement he was gentle, ironic, generous to others, amusing to many, academic, and will always be remembered by me. Micheal Meredith and Hilary Sample: Robert Venturi transformed architecture (practice and teaching) for those of us after him (America and abroad). He made it better. Together with Denise Scott Brown, he pioneered design partnerships (now there are so many), engaged multiple scales and media (from books to furniture to buildings to urbanism), and brought architecture into dialog with its contemporary culture (both as an intellectual pursuit and a practical/technical one). He seemed to take equal pleasure in both history and the mundane, offering a witty counterpoint to the heroic artist-architect and to the essentialism of his time with an articulate ambiguity, complexity, and inclusivity (something that is more and more important nowadays). Robert Ivy: Robert Venturi, appreciated for high intelligence, erudition, and a benevolent viewpoint, brought humanism to architecture. His work shone with wit and fit—creating a colorful dialogue between past and present, between high seriousness and contemporary irony. Signification, pattern, relationship, and memory. Together with his partners, this improbable radical tinted the world with joy. Sylvia Lavin: Although I have known Bob for what seems like forever, both at a distance as an august luminary in the field and a bit closer, as a person with whom to talk about Rome and main street, it is only in the past few years that I have gotten to see him work in intimate detail. Spending time in his archive, I have been systematically struck by the astonishing intelligence that permeates everything but that is often most intense when hidden in office memos, hand-drawn key codes to material specifications and sketches made on legal pads evidently drawn in a library. His sharp acumen and wit has always been abundantly clear to everyone through the discipline-changing work we all know, but the creative timbre of his intellection is different in these less mediated expressions. Kind acknowledgments of the contributions made by secretarial staff, surprisingly precocious interest in digital technologies, and outbursts of frustrations with the ordinary obstacles confronted by architects, are evidence that in his daily life, he operated in accordance with the principle—often publicly stated but also often misunderstood as mere professional rhetoric—that architects are not heroes but people with interesting jobs to do. And in these documents, there is also evidence of perhaps the smartest thing he ever did – which was to marry Denise, to whom I offer my deepest condolences. Elena Manferdini: Very few texts captured a cultural paradigm shift as Robert Venturi and Scott Brown’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas. Their influence on generations of architects is as fresh as it was when those texts were first published. They destabilized the form-function determinism of modernist architects and opened our field to hybrid forms, super graphics, and pop-style culture. They liberated architecture from anachronistic dogmas with intellectual depth, innate sense of humor, unexpected juxtapositions and playful colors. They looked at architecture as a cultural inclusive expanded field. Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample: Robert Venturi transformed architecture (practice and teaching) for those of us after him (America and abroad). He made it better. Together with Denise Scott Brown, he pioneered design partnerships (now there are so many), engaged multiple scales and media (from books to furniture to buildings to urbanism), and brought architecture into dialog with its contemporary culture (both as an intellectual pursuit and a practical/technical one). He seemed to take equal pleasure in both history and the mundane, offering a witty counterpoint to the heroic artist-architect and to the essentialism of his time with an articulate ambiguity, complexity, and inclusivity (something that is more and more important nowadays).View this post on Instagram
Ivan Saleff: Ciao Bob, Bob has left the building. His spirit will roam the universe for eternity always nigh his beloved Denise and Jim. The maestro’s boundless work remains behind with us. It will thankfully perplex pundits, colleagues and students for centuries to come. Bob and Denise’s work has always been inclusive speaking to all ages, cultures, endeavors, and genders. Bob chose to write in common language however his work also provides the challenge of peeling back its deeper layers. Bob’s daily life and work formed one unified whole full of the complexities and contradictions of which he wrote. There was no other Venturi lurking. He was the real deal, authentic, loving and committed in everything he did. Bob was courageous in his efforts to combat pretentious trends which traded substance for drama and one-liner. His arsenal included wit, artistry, ambiguity, irony and academic prowess. He was well armed and ready to engage. I remember him telling me of how he struggled at the time when placing the fractured horizontal white band at the fifth floor of Guild House. It took me a while to fully understand that. It made me think. That is what Bob does. He makes us think. Ashley Schafer and Amanda Reeser: Picking up copy edits on the day of Robert Venturi’s passing, we were struck by the pertinence of the image on the last page of our last issue. It is a photograph of Bob and Denise taken from the back seat, framed by a windshield, ahead of which are signs, strip malls, decorated sheds. It captures so perfectly how they asked us to look at the world differently. Their embrace of Americana, of the city, of what is worthy of our attention, opened the discipline to a more diverse set of interests and narratives long before it was politically correct to do so. The inclusivity Bob championed in Complexity and Contradiction expanded ways of operating in the field, which deeply influenced us at PRAXIS (not to mention generations of architects). His and Denise’s intellectual generosity is a reminder of how we should all strive to practice. Martino Stierli: We have lost a giant, but also an incredibly warm, witty, and generous human being. I remember once cooking a simple pasta with tomato sauce for Bob and Denise in their beautiful Philadelphia home, when I had just started working on my PhD thesis on their Learning from Las Vegas. When Bob saw the sauce, he commented: “How exotic!” He really did see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Venturi, through his pointed observations, is rhetorical brilliance and his puns, forever changed how we think and talk about architecture. One of his most famous drawings illustrated his concept of the decorated shed with the words “I AM A MONUMENT.” That he is. Michael Sorkin: One of the first articles I published after finishing school was a screed attacking Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Not altogether originally, I charged Bob Venturi with promoting an escapist, purely visual, aesthetic at time of social crisis. How wrong I was! That book and his work were really all about the political and its imbrication not simply in artistic invention but in expansive choice and respect for the choices of others. Bob was eternally and ever gently subversive and changed – liberated - the way we think about architecture. He realized what we were so piously fighting for: the authenticity of difference and the freedom of the imagination.View this post on Instagram
Léa-Catherine Szacka: “Main Street is Almost all Right” Robert Venturi (1925-2018), probably the best representative of American Postmodernism, was one of the twenty participants of the spectacular Strada Novissima at the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale. In fact, together with Denise Scott Brown and John Rauch, he probably stayed at the most important address on that street, behind a façade that took the form of a colorful pop cartoonish temple with, in the back, and visible from the street, a large reproduction of the 1964 Vanna Venturi house painted by Cinecittà technicians. Venturi’s presence in the exhibition was seen as not only desirable but as absolutely essential to the success of the show. So much so that chief curator Paolo Portoghesi made sure to include architectural historian Vincent Scully amongst the advisory board of the exhibition, as he knew, only Scully would be able to convince the father of postmodernism to come and play with the other kids on the block. Stanley Tigerman and Margaret McCurry: Bob Venturi led the way backward to a “gentler, simpler time.” His was a postmodernists’ wail that in the late 1960’s spoke a more complex language than that enunciated by canonical modernism. Always the gentleman, he seemed uncomfortable with the mantel of notoriety which nonetheless he wore with great dignity. Never the “starchitect” Bob was too retiring to be bothered by the machinations of fame. He never aimed to be the leader of the “loyal opposition” party either and while his words spoke volumes about complex values, his architectural production sometimes fell a bit short of the mark but not by much. Curiously, like Mies van der Rohe before him he lived to see the discipline of architecture diminished by the false gods of “Marketing and Branding,” but the ethos that has ennobled architecture throughout the ages has already touched the youngest generation who would aspire to that which has been missing in our epoch- “value.” James Wines: “Bob and Denise” In my mind, Bob and Denise are a single entity... a consolidation of infinite intellect and creativity that changed the very foundations of how we think about the built environment. Their unified presence has been totally embedded in both my conscious and subconscious views of architecture since the 1970s; so, it is impossible to believe that one half of this divine team is missing. Denise will surely go on to ever more amazing triumphs of art and theory, but the unity and expansiveness of their ideas will always endure in the design world as a supreme example of love and vision in one package. Mark Wigley: Robert Venturi was hugely influential and hugely misunderstood. He most famously called for complexity and contradiction in architecture but he was actually a new kind of minimalist, always looking to maximize the effect of the least--as revealed by the very compactness of the self-undermining mantra “Less is a Bore.” He was a truly laconic architect, efficiently belittling what others celebrate and celebrating what others belittle. More than anything, he savored the uncontainable ripples produced by slow-motion collisions between seemingly incompatible little things. Together with Denise Scott-Brown, he kept asking architects to think again, and smile a bit, even if the offer was rarely taken up.View this post on Instagram
The family of Pritzker-prize winner and giant of contemporary architecture Robert Venturi has reported to AN that Venturi has passed away at the age of 93. Venturi was a pioneering author of books on architectural theory (especially Learning from Las Vegas and his introduction to the history of Rome) and, along with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown, founded Venturi Scott Brown Associates—later renamed VSBA. Together they have been credited with ushering in the Postmodern period in architecture. The firm would go on to design a number of important postmodern buildings, many of which are currently under threat, though Venturi himself retired from VSBA in 2016. Venturi accrued a number of architecture’s highest honors during his life and worked with Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn during his early career. Besides his Pritzker win in 1991, Venturi was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Rome Prize Fellowship winner, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. AN will follow this announcement up with a more complete obituary and remembrances from friends and colleagues in the coming days. Venturi's family requests that their privacy be respected at this time. See the following statement from Venturi's family on his passing: "Last night, Robert Venturi passed away peacefully at home after a brief illness. He’s been surrounded by his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown and his son, Jim Venturi. He was 93.
The family is planning to have a memorial service to celebrate Venturi’s life and this will be announced in the coming weeks."
Today Sir John Soane’s Museum in London honored architect and planner Denise Scott Brown as the 2018 recipient of the Soane Medal, the second annual award given by the museum to an architect who has made a major contribution to the field through their built work, education, or theory. Scott Brown's award will be celebrated at a special public ceremony on Wednesday, October 17, at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, an extension she designed with her husband Robert Venturi in 1991. While Scott Brown will not be in attendance, the event will feature a lecture by the award winner, pre-recorded from her home in Philadelphia along with rarely seen photographs from the architect’s life and work. Sir David Chipperfield, Soane Medal juror and trustee of the museum, will issue a live response to Scott Brown’s message. In a press release, Chipperfield noted that Scott Brown was the obvious choice out of the array of candidates the jury looked into. “Denise Scott Brown stood apart and was the jury’s unanimous choice. Scott Brown’s contribution across architecture, urbanism, theory, and education over the last fifty years has been profound and far-reaching,” he said. “Her example has been an inspiration to many, and we are delighted to honour her with the award of the Soane Medal.” As one half of the revered firm Venturi Scott Brown, she’s created multiple master plans for projects around the world from the Département de la Haute-Garonne provincial capitol building in Toulouse, France, to the Mielparque resort in Kirifuri National Park in Japan. She’s also led highly-touted research projects, most notably Learning from Las Vegas, which turned into her’s and Venturi’s seminal book that helped usher in the postmodernist era in architecture. The Soane Medal was established in memory of the museum’s founder, Sir John Soane, a 19th-century, English, neo-classical architect. The museum is composed of his historic house, museum, and library that make up an “academy of architecture” for visitors interested in history and design. Rafael Moneo was the inaugural recipient of the Soane Medal in 2017. Tickets for the October event honoring Scott Brown can be found here.
Only a month-and-a-half after a colorful Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown-designed house in Shadyside, Pittsburgh was put up for sale, AN has learned that the new owner plans on tearing it down. The Abrams House, commissioned by Irving and Betty Abrams and completed in 1979, is a striking example of Venturi’s playful postmodernist style. One-half of the roof curves and swoops like a cresting wave over the more traditionally-shaped rectangular portion, with a 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling below. The house’s front facade is capped with a window arrangement that resembles both a ship’s wheel as well as the rising sun and is accentuated with green-and-white “rays” emanating from the window assembly. A ribbon window wraps around the house and illuminates the interior, allowing the primary colors used everywhere from the soffits to the furniture to stand out. A mural by Roy Lichtenstein in the living room accentuates the house’s pop art aesthetic. Other than the colorful flourishes, the Abrams House is particularly notable for its location; the house is surrounded by midcentury work from well-known architects, including the Frank House by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and the Giovannitti House by Richard Meier. The two-bed, two-and-a-half bath was put up for sale in mid-June of this year for $1.1 million, and the new buyer, Bill Snyder, closed on the building on July 20. Preservationists had briefly hoped that Snyder, who also owns the Giovannitti House, would restore the building, but a demolition permit was filed on July 23. Pittsburgh requires a 15-day wait period between the filing of a demolition permit and the start of work, but an anonymous source has informed AN that the interior of the house has already been gutted. The large Lichtenstein piece has been covered and removed, either causing or revealing significant degradation in the wall behind, and fixtures throughout the house have been cleared out. Snyder had purchased the Giovannitti House from its original owners, Frank and Colleen Giovannitti, in 2017 and is currently restoring the exterior of the home to its original condition. With the demolition of the Abrams House, the entire lot may become a landscaped addition to complement Meier’s building. Brittany Reilly, a board member at the nonprofit Preservation Pittsburgh, has been trying to raise awareness of the house. According to Reilly, the home is a unique piece of architecture for Pittsburgh in a neighborhood full of architecturally-significant houses. The problem? The Abrams House isn’t visible from the street, and Reilly believes that seclusion has led the public to overlook it. The next step for preservationists is to “respectfully” drum up community attention to the demolition. Preservation Pittsburgh has reached out to VSBA Architects & Planners, who were unaware of the demolition, as well as other Pittsburgh-based preservation groups, and is currently trying to establish a dialogue with Snyder. Update: After this story was originally published, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) has been working to mount an individual landmark nomination with the Historic Review Commission, planning commission and Pittsburgh City Council before the 15 day period elapses. Denise Scott Brown expressed her displeasure with the demolition reached for comment by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Why does he need to do that? Why doesn’t he save it,” said Brown. “This is not very honorable.” AN will follow this story up as more details become available.
As a controversial plan to expand the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) San Diego campus by Selldorf Architects forges ahead, Denise Scott Brown and other notable figures have come out in defense of a 1995 Venturi Scott Brown Associates-designed (VSBA) postmodern addition to the complex that is in danger of being altered. Selldorf Architects unveiled their $55 million expansion plans for the 75-year-old museum in La Jolla, California, in 2015, promising to double its overall size to 104,000 square feet while also quadrupling the museum’s galleries to include a total of 40,000 square feet of exhibition space. Originally opened in 1941 in a private residence designed by noted California architect Irving Gill in 1915 for journalist and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps—founder of the nearby Scripps Research Institute and of Scripps College in Claremont, California—the MCA complex has been heavily altered and adapted over the years. Major renovations by San Diego architects Mosher Drew added formal galleries to the home in 1950 and an auditorium in 1960. A subsequent renovation by the firm in 1980 added the first climate control system for a west coast museum. VSBA’s additions came roughly 15 years later and included adding a new entry sequence while also expanding the museum’s footprint by adding 5,000 square feet of new galleries and a cafe, restaurant, and gift shop. According to Scott Brown, the 1995 addition, executed in association with architect David Singer, was designed to align the growing museum with the town of La Jolla by creating a series of artful gathering spaces where the museum could hold public events without exposing valuable artworks to wear and tear. Describing the carefully crafted entry sequence and the addition’s signature entry hall, Denise Scott Brown told The Architect’s Newspaper, “We added a place that is artistic and fun but with no paintings that could get hurt.” The iconic space, known as the Axline Court after a donor who contributed to the project, is made up of a previously-existing courtyard VSBA closed-in. Starburst shaped, supported by scattershot piers, and topped with clerestory windows and sculptural, neon-lit arches, the hall has acted a grand entry vestibule for the complex for over 20 years and is an iconic postmodern space if there ever was one. The $6.18 million project aimed to “enrich the museum’s image and civic presence,” according to the firm’s website, a feat that was accomplished by uncovering and recreating certain historical elements while also adding new, dramatic spaces imbued with a late 1990s sensibility: cool beige and blue terrazzo floors to compliment the sea, oversized archways echoing neighboring buildings, and of course, copious neon signage. Venturi and Scott Brown also worked to expose and restore several elements of the original Irving Gill-designed façade along the town-facing side of the complex, including portions that had been demolished or covered up by the earlier Mosher Drew interventions. In spectacular PoMo fashion, the designs included a pair of super-sized, vine-covered pergolas recreated out of fiberglass and steel in homage to Gill’s original designs. The pergolas, bookended by the cafe and Axline court, created a new, multi-faceted entry for the complex articulated as a breezy, covered walkway. The initial Gill-designed building was itself originally fronted by a set of pergolas—crafted out of wood—as are several other buildings in the area also designed by Gill, including the nearby Women’s Club building, now home to the La Jolla Historical Society. To the south of the pergolas, the VSBA-designed facade wraps the main entry containing the Axline Court as well as the auditorium from 1960. The volumes are sheathed in stucco walls punctuated by a series of arch-topped windows. The arched windows are another nod to the Gill-designed buildings nearby. Along its backside, the VSBA additions spill out over a sandy cliff overlooking the ocean. Designed after the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the VSBA addition brought accessibility to the complex, as well, adding a series of sloped concrete ramps along this exposure that are terraced into the hillside as a meandering trail. Selldorf’s addition to the complex would reconfigure and hollow-out the auditorium along the front of the building into a new main entry, gift shop, and large double-height gallery. The building would be extended southward from there in a collection of smaller new gallery spaces organized into a pair of bars the form a wedged shape in plan. Another oceanside terrace would be added at the back of the new wing, as well. Annabelle Selldorf, principal of the New York City-based Selldorf Architects, explained that the expansion is vitally necessary for the museum because the 1995 addition “devoted little new space to exhibiting art,” due in part to a change in scope for the project partway through design. The museum in its current configuration simply doesn’t have enough space according to Kathryn Kanjo, MCA executive director and has “remained constrained” over the years despite the 1995 addition. Kanjo explained in a call that she and the museum board are interested in being able to display MCA’s permanent collection while also showcasing traveling exhibitions. Under the current configuration, the museum has to choose between those options, an untenable position for an institution striving to serve a broad and diverse public, Kanjo said. With the additions, the director hopes to reshape the complex “strategically” and “sensitively” in a way that adds “coherence to complexity” but also remains respectful to the existing portions of the building. “Annabelle [Selldorf] appealed to us as an architect for this reason,” Kanjo said. Selldorf echoed the sentiment, explaining that her office sought to “have a dialogue with the existing buildings and to to examine how they can evolve” while creating an addition that allows visitors to “understand they’re moving through different eras of the building,” with activity to be funneled through the new portions. Selldorf added that although the Axline Court “won’t be the entrance anymore, it will have a more distinct function and will feel a bit like the center of gravity” for the complex. Scott Brown is not buying it, however. The award-winning architect described the latest renovation plans as “pretty enough” to win the approval of board members but severely lacking in terms of its relationship to La Jolla’s street life among several aspects of the designs she takes issue with. Scott Brown is particularly against the idea of a new entrance as proposed by Selldorf, saying that the proposed addition did not understand the intricate “retail choreography” embedded in the existing layout and that relocating the entrance would destroy the “linkages” between museum and town VSBA’s designs sought to put into place. Scott Brown said, “[MCA] needs the support of the town and the town needs its support—If they pull the two apart and place the entrances too far apart from each other, it won’t work anymore.” Supporters of the VSBA project recently sent Kanjo and the MCA board a petition calling the proposed additions a “tremendous mistake” that damage “a cultural landmark” while also “severely weakening La Jolla’s beloved village center.” The petition is signed by 70 architectural thinkers, academics, and practitioners, including the deans of Harvard and Penn and several chief architecture curators at the Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Research Institute, and the MAXXI Museum. Scholars Stanislaus von Moos, Esther da Costa Meyer, and Jean-Louis Cohen, critics Charles Jencks, Martin Filler, and Paul Goldberger, and architects Toshiko Mori, Robert A.M. Stern, and Sir Terry Farrell signed on the petition as well. In part, the petition reads:
VSB’s design, unlike that of the proposed expansion, arises from careful study and understanding of La Jolla’s urban form. Its street frontage, museum store, and cafe extend the rhythm of Prospect Street’s lively storefronts, celebrating the museum’s location in the village commercial center and drawing visitors toward the building. At the entrance, visitors then encounter an urbane courtyard that fronts the museum’s Irving Gill-designed Scripps House: it invites them to rest for a moment, enjoy Gill’s architecture, have a coffee, and then enter the museum. This well-loved urban space is now threatened by the museum’s expansion plan. The plan, drawn up by New York-based Selldorf Architects, would tear down much of VSB’s facade as well as their dramatic colonnade—interrupting the urbane rhythm of the street and destroying the courtyard. And it would move the museum’s entry to a formulaic glass lobby that thumbs its nose at Gill’s architecture. Demolishing the colonnade is billed as a way of making the house more visible—but actually, it would prevent visitors from experiencing it in the way Gill intended: from the intimate, pedestrian-scaled space in front of it. And it would destroy the sense of enclosure that VSB created for the adjacent town green formed by a group of surrounding Gill-designed buildings. The new plan is a slap in the face to Gill: to the composition of the group as a whole and in particular to the Scripps House, which without the colonnade would be left looking small and insubstantial, overshadowed by the museum’s later additions.The petition implores the museum to “come up with a plan for expansion that is sensitive and respectful to the village of La Jolla” as well as the VSBA designs and references the recent landmarking of VSBA’s Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London as an appropriate way of acknowledging VSBA’s work in San Diego. For now, MCA’s plans are moving full-steam ahead. The museum has been closed since last year and groundbreaking is scheduled for this fall. The project is fully-entitled and construction documents are currently in development. Worse yet to Scott Brown’s efforts, removal of existing sections has already begun. One of the VSBA-designed pergolas was removed a few weeks ago and was transferred to a new privately-held parklet being planned by the La Jolla Historical Society. Explaining the rationale behind moving the pergola structure, Heath Fox, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society told AN, “I happen to be a person who appreciates postmodern architecture and envisioned an opportunity to save the VSBA pergolas as a piece of new garden.” Fox added, “The park will add an important piece of history to the neighborhood and will keep the pergola in the Scripps community.”