Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is not an easy book, or so we were told by Vincent Scully in the introduction to Robert Venturi’s seminal 1966 publication. The book’s release is the stuff of modern architectural mythology. When initially published, Venturi’s text signified a daring step away from modern orthodoxy. It encouraged the design community to actively participate in broad architectural discourse, to treat the past as prologue rather than discarding it as merely vestigial. The book was loathed by many. Treated as critical contraband, it was seen as incendiary and vulgar, and was perceived to be a jab to the prevailing momentum of Western architectural progress. However, to a small fraction of midcentury architects, the book was a welcome embrace of architectural inheritance. It was a permissive, if soft, manifesto allowing designers to stretch out, to embrace a messy and nonlinear practice, to get a little weird. Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby proudly identify with Team Venturi. The first pages of Robert Venturi’s Rome, to which both contribute text and watercolor illustration, celebrate the profound influence Complexity and Contradiction had on the way they practice, teach, and understand the built environment. Reading the book as students proved to be a shared watershed moment. Fisher immediately shifted focus from art and art history to architecture, and has worked in Rome as both an architect and Rome Prize Fellow. Harby received the book from Vincent Scully in a fateful transaction that led to a Rome Prize Fellowship and a recurring teaching position in the Eternal City. Robert Venturi’s Rome is ostensibly a travel book for the architecturally inclined, exploring some, though not all, of the Roman sites referenced in Complexity and Contradiction. Fisher and Harby “propose to take the reader on a journey through time and ideas by visiting and discussing nearly thirty Roman places that exemplify Venturi’s revolutionary ideas,” and they use the Complexity and Contradiction table of contents, and supplemental quotes from the original text, as a framework for ten short tours. Unsurprisingly, by pairing buildings and urban spaces with the tenets of Venturi’s work, including “ambiguity,” “contradiction” (both “adapted” and “juxtaposed”), and the “double-functioning element,” Robert Venturi’s Rome is quickly revealed to be more complex, and yes, more contradictory, than a standard travel guide of the Fodor’s or Rick Steves variety. Fisher and Harby pragmatically outline locations and hours of operation, but eschew detailed photography for their own watercolor illustrations. The images of buildings, architectural elements, and plans are gorgeous, lovingly rendered and evocative, but leave details to be examined solely by text. Accordingly, the text often carries an unevenly distributed burden. Venturi populated Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture with more than 250 images, mixing architectural photographs and drawings with mannerist and abstract paintings, an approach that buttressed his criticism and apologia. Conversely, Fisher and Harby are successful when describing formally familiar work, like the Pantheon or Casa Girasole, but struggle when examining complicated baroque spaces, like Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Vacillating between highlight reel and inside baseball, the tone of the book is inconsistent. It is simultaneously a travelogue for the architecturally curious and a series of esoteric incantations relying on the erudition of the reader to spot the sly relationship between Fisher and Harby’s text and Venturi’s design exegesis. The esteem in which the authors hold Venturi—and his work—and their admiration for Roman architecture is evident. Venerating both theorist and city, Fisher and Harby note, “it is possible that, without acknowledging it, Venturi…is celebrating the fact that in the hands of Borromini and many other architects, classical language is a living, fluid thing, and not the dead language that Venturi’s modernist contemporaries would have considered it.” By design or otherwise, the publication of Robert Venturi’s Rome feels timely and in keeping with a broader revivalist spirit currently underway. It fits easily with the recent Ettore Sottsass show at the Met Breuer, the successful effort to designate Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo’s Ambassador Grill as a New York City landmark, and the recognition of the glass pyramid–topped Musée Louvre renovation with an AIA 25-year award. Still, it takes a unique kind of architectural navel gazer to appreciate the meta-narrative of a book about a book by an architect designing buildings about architecture. Scully suggested that Complexity and Contradiction might shift our professional perspective from the Champs d’Elysées to Main Street. Through thoughtful analysis and vivid illustration, Fisher and Harby remind us that Rome is a complex city of interwoven Main Streets populated by both historic exemplars and idiosyncratic oddities. Robert Venturi’s Rome “evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus,” write the authors. “Its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once.” Coincidentally, so does Robert Venturi’s Rome. Brian Newman is an architect and university campus planner and has taught at Washington University in St. Louis. Robert Venturi's Rome Frederick Fisher and Stephen Harby, ORO Editions, $25.00
Posts tagged with "Frederick Fisher":
Leong Leong was selected to design the master plan and new buildings for the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood. The pair's resume includes fashion house Philip Lim as well as the design of the United States Pavilion of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. The firm is known for using common materials in uncommon ways, with results that belie humble beginnings: a sleek facade composed of mirrored louver blinds, sound insulation foam transforms into a chic wallcovering. The new project is their biggest commission to date and includes a 183,700-square-foot facility and a campus plan that, with the existing building, covers more than a city block and includes 140 units of affordable housing for seniors and young adults, 100 beds for homeless youth, a new senior center, retail space, a center for homeless youth, and an administrative headquarters. The scheme will be centered on a series of courtyard spaces and plazas. The Los Angeles LGBT Center and housing developer Thomas Safran & Associates chose Leong Leong from a shortlist of five firms, which included Michael Maltzan, Frederick Fisher, Predock Frane, and MAD. The commission is a collaboration between the firm, executive architect Killefer Flammang Architects and landscape architect Pamela Burton. “The design concept is to create a mosaic of unique spaces and programs that—together with The Village at Ed Gould Plaza—will form a cohesive campus along McCadden Place. We hope the project will become an urban catalyst for the neighborhood, connecting residents, clients, staff, and neighbors alike,” says Chris Leong.
Amid changing development landscape and high rents, Santa Monica Museum of Art begins search for a new home
Edward Cella Art and Architecture is not the only Los Angeles art institution leaving its longtime location soon. AN has learned from the Los Angeles Times that the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMOA) is closing its doors at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station early next month. According to the newspaper, the move was largely precipitated by the city's selection last fall of developer Bergamot Station Ltd/Worthe Real Estate and architect Fred Fisher for a major redevelopment of Bergamot. That scheme has been noted for its effort to maintain the 33-gallery complex's industrial shed vernacular. The museum had hoped for a proposal by 26th Street TOD and Rios Clementi Hale that would have added $17 million to its endowment. Furthermore the owner of Bergamot, Wayne Blank, doubled SMMOA's rent last spring. "It was a huge blow," SMMOA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser told AN. "It made it clear that the landlord was not eager to continue his support of the museum." "They picked the development team that offered them the most, which wasn’t the best of the three teams," Blank responded to AN. "They had the worst plan. It would have destroyed Bergamot." He added: "It was no longer comfortable to have them on board." Bergamot, once a train station and site for light manufacturing, has been a home to art since the early 1990s. SMMOA is now taking time to look for a new home. "We will use this time very intensely and judiciously to examine all the possibilities and determine what makes the most sense,” Longhauser told the Times. "There are a number of leads, but nothing’s signed and sealed," Longhauser told AN. She said there was a chance that the museum may have to leave Santa Monica altogether, largely because of the city's high rents. Blank, who hopes SMMOA can "reinvent itself" elsewhere, said that he is now looking for another non-profit to take the museum's space, if possible. The city's redevelopment of Bergamot won't start for another two to three years at the earliest.
The AIA Los Angeles has awarded its 2013 Gold Medal to Frederick Fisher. Founder and principal at Frederick Fisher & Partner Architects, Fisher has been practicing architecture in LA for more than 30 years. During the late 1970s he was part of the “L.A. School,” a group of architects including Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry, and Eric Owen Moss who staged exhibitions at Mayne’s in-home architecture gallery.Fisher worked in Gehry’s practice for several years, yet in his own designs Fisher eschews the mind-bending geometry for which Gehry and some of his other contemporaries are known. Instead, Fisher’s work is characterized by a combination of lightness and restraint. Many of Fisher's projects have been art museums or educational buildings. Adaptive-reuse cultural projects include the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, the renovation of A. Quincy Jones’s The Barn, now the home of the Chora Council of Metabolic Studio, and the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens. Among Fisher's work for educational institutions are the Jane B. Eisner Middle School, housed in a building originally owned by the Southern California Telephone Company, and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology at Caltech. Fisher also designed the Sunnylands Center and Gardens at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Fisher will receive his award at the AIA Los Angeles Design Awards Gala on October 28th. Other presidential award winners include LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LACMA director Michael Govan, and artist James Turrell.
For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it's time to feel old. As part of its "Curating The City" series, the Los Angeles Conservancy is tomorrow hosting an amazing tour called Venice Eclectic: Modern Architecture from the 1970s and ’80s. The event features looks inside whimsical buildings by, among others, Frank Gehry (Indiana Avenue Houses/Arnoldi Triplex), Steven Ehrlich (Ed Moses Studio), Brian Murphy (Hopper House, above), Frederick Fisher, and Frank Israel. Yes, it's time to appreciate these decades for more than disco and Madonna. After the tour there will be a panel featuring Ehrlich, Fisher, and Murphy. And that's just the beginning of a busy weekend for LA architecture and urbanism buffs. There's also SCI-Arc's 40th birthday party on Saturday night and CicLAvia—with an expanded route going all the way to the ocean for the first time—on Sunday. Get going.
AN is headed out to California for the third year running for one of our favorite architecture events: Palm Springs Modernism Week (February 16-26). Palm Springs--and its surrounding towns, spas and arid California landscape--is home to what the organizers call "desert modernism." The city is an extraordinary gridded landscape of modern car-ported flat-roofed houses and dozens of iconic homes, shops, and landscapes. The 11-day celebration focuses every year on an outstanding example of residential modern architecture, and this year it will highlight Sunnylands, the A. Quincy Jones-designed mansion (interior by William Haines) for the Annenbergs in nearby Rancho Mirage. The estate is surrounded by an art garden, labyrinth, private nine-hole golf course (currently being restored), and a new visitors center designed by Frederick Fisher. Other highlights of this year's celebration are tours of modern banks, an architecture film series, and visits to the Albert Frey and Raymond Loewy houses. Since this is southern California there will also be an exhibit of Loewy-designed Avantis from the 1960s and a new Airstream trailer designed by architect Christopher Deam. We will report back next week about these and other Modernism week highlights, as well as the new Sagauro Hotel (designed by New York architects Stamberg Aferiat) where we are hanging our hat for the week.
A selection of Architect Frederick Fisher's watercolors—which he often creates while developing designs for his houses, galleries, and other commissions— is on display through May 22 at Edward Cella Art + Architecture, 6018 Wilshire Blvd, LA, across the street from LACMA. Minimal yet sensual, these abstractions of a house he is designing for himself in Ojai and of recent academic buildings explore the relationship of mass and void. His buildings grow from these soft blocks of pigment, and the subtlety of the wash expresses the care with which he crafts his forms. Some are a leap into the unknown: a project titled Imaginary Museums was sketched during his 2008 fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. A still-life by Morandi inspires a museum that showcases his work, and abandoned buildings are given new roles. The monuments of Rome are re-examined with a fresh eye, in homage to Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction. As an overture to these tiny, evocative drawings, the first room is hung with digital renderings of the proposed museums. This is Fisher’s first gallery show and on Saturday May 1, 1-3pm, he will discuss his ideas with Frances Anderton, host of DnA: Design and Architecture on KCRW.
Update (4/21/10): Three more firms have been confirmed: Snohetta, Rafael Viñoly, and L.A.'s Frederick Fisher. This is shaping up to be a pretty diverse crew. The SF Chronicle reports that the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive has sent out letters to ten architecture firms, asking them to submit qualifications to design their new home. Adding to the three that have already been sussed out (Bernard Tschumi, Tod Williams Billie Tsien, and Will Bruder), we have confirmed a fourth: Ann Beha, whose Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire has been well-received. If that partial list is any indication, the museum is looking at a more diverse group than SFMOMA is considering for its addition, though (as in SFMOMA's case) no local names have surfaced yet. It is going to be an interesting adaptive reuse project: the old printing plant on the site will be renovated, and a 50,000 square-foot addition incorporated into the whole.