Posts tagged with "Venturi Scott Brown":

Unpacking Selldorf Architects’ controversial addition to Venturi Scott Brown’s Museum of Contemporary Art

As postmodernism comes roaring back in the architecture world, the time finally seems ripe for many unfairly maligned buildings to receive their due respect. But at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the opposite seems on the verge of happening: A proposed concrete-and-glass expansion threatens to severely damage a lovely and highly functional building by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). The agglomerated museum of today—built in pieces between 1915 and 1996—mixes austere concrete with playful color, oversize plaster columns with powerful round arches, large signs and neon with an intimate courtyard. The original portion, a spare house by the California architect Irving Gill, gently tussles with VSBA’s surrounding addition; together, they embrace the tensions inherent in preserving a house within the context of a museum’s more monumental scale. And yet the complex still manages to fit comfortably in its historic surroundings: a set of buildings also designed by Gill that together form a central green for the village of La Jolla. The proposed expansion, on the other hand, shows little interest in its surroundings. The work of New York City architect Annabelle Selldorf, it includes an interior renovation that would smartly turn the existing auditorium into gallery space with a pleasant set of oceanside terraces. But things go awry in the new galleries and glass-entrance atrium, which, in the architect's zeal for a sort of Tadao Ando–inspired minimalism, end up missing out on an opportunity to contribute to the building’s richness. The most alarming proposal, though, is the removal of VSBA’s dramatic colonnade and, consequently, the courtyard that it helps to form. Selldorf argues that the colonnade obstructs views of the original house, but she overlooks the way in which its exaggerated scale both projects the museum’s civic presence and creates a sense of shelter that allows visitors to experience the house in Gill’s intended intimate setting, separated from the traffic out front. Visitors pass through the compressed courtyard on their way into the building—but then upon entering suddenly encounter the double-height explosion of light, neon, and brightly colored patterns that is VSBA’s iconic Axline Court. Under the new plan, the house would indeed be more visible from the road, but it would appear small and insubstantial, overshadowed by the later additions. Visitors would enter via the glass atrium then proceed directly into the new galleries, undercutting the importance of the house and making the Axline Court into a kind of curious afterthought. Both Selldorf and museum director Kathryn Kanjo say they want the court to remain lively, but given the proposed circulation—in which most visitors will only come across it at the back of the bookstore or after passing through three galleries—it’s hard to see what purpose it could serve. The sum total of the new plan would be a mishmash: an unhappy family of buildings that refuse to talk to one another all jammed together onto a single site. It would lose the crescendoing choreography of spaces that gives it vitality and order, as well the carefully considered relation to the town green. And not for any good reason: it would be quite possible—and substantially cheaper—to add galleries where Selldorf proposes without fundamentally detracting from the existing building. Unfortunately, such an approach would require an appreciation on the museum’s part of its architectural legacy that has so far not been forthcoming. Officials I spoke to seemed to have given little thought to the impact of the new project on the VSBA building, and when pressed on their thinking offered no particular reason that the existing circulation or aesthetics needed to be changed. And the museum made only the feeblest of efforts to contact Scott Brown and Venturi about the plans—former director Hugh Davies says he left a single message at their office in 2014, though by that point they had been retired for several years and consequently never heard it. No follow-up was ever attempted; the duo were understandably surprised when I showed them the plans a few weeks ago. By contrast, when Renzo Piano undertook the renovation of the former May Company department store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, he immediately contacted the office of the architects who designed it, A.C. Martin, and walked through his ideas with the firm’s current partners. Why are Venturi and Scott Brown, widely recognized as among the most important architects of the postwar era, not accorded a similar respect? The short answer to this question is simply that their work is unfashionable: too old to seem new but not old enough to have that nostalgic patina of “another era.” The longer answer is perhaps that architecture that engages the messiness of the world around it must fight an uphill battle for survival in the world of contemporary building—where architecture is too often seen as a formal game, as a matter of sculpting material and form with little concern for the complexities of place and identity. Too many of today’s architects and clients, not understanding the ethical imperative behind the VSBA mode of design, write it off as postmodern riffing—surface-level ornament without a coherent underlying order. But actually each element of the work relates to the larger whole—to symbolic meanings, to the physical and cultural context, to sequences of spaces. And in those relationships emerge subtle and sometimes even disconcerting distortions and juxtapositions—a traditional dome represented only through a bright neon outline in the Axline Court, an entry sequence that at first leads you toward the old front door of the Gill House and then suddenly turns you sideways. These moments allow us to look at the world a little differently: to see the familiar as strange and to reflect on what it means. This powerful but difficult way of making meaning, so well appreciated in many of the artworks of MCASD’s collection, seems to offend contemporary sensibilities when it makes its way into architecture. Indeed, this is not the first time VSBA‘s work has been mistreated in a contemporary renovation. The 2007 expansion of their 1991 Seattle Art Museum by the minimalist architect Brad Cloepfil similarly disregarded a carefully orchestrated entry sequence, replacing it with—drumroll please—yet another generic atrium. Though the VSBA-designed building’s exterior was ostensibly left alone, Cloepfil’s hefty glass tower flatly declines to engage with it (or with the rest of its context, for that matter). Now the original building has taken on the feeling of an eccentric side wing wedged up against a chunky office block. At this point nothing short of a total renovation could set things right. Fortunately, it isn’t too late for the San Diego museum to learn from Seattle and modify its course. It need not totally redesign the addition, but it ought to let the VSBA- and Gill-designed buildings continue on in their lively interplay of similarities and differences. It ought to leave the columns alone, or at least update them respectfully, and rethink the wisdom of having visitors enter through a generic atrium. As Scott Brown put it to me, “Making a more simple-minded entry could be, maybe, just that—too simple-minded.”

A compromise does seem possible. Earlier this year, value engineering eliminated one of the best features of Selldorfs proposal: translucent skylights above the new galleries and converted auditorium. Why not bring them back by saving money on the new atrium and entry sequence? The worrisome proposed circulation would be improved, as would Selldorfs own galleries. The Axline Court would retain its function as the hub around which the various other parts of the museum are clustered, and the Gill house would remain at the museums visual and circulatory heart.

Such a renovation would recognize a key thing: that effective renovations must be a labor of love. They cannot arise from a dislike of what was there before. If the new addition struggles against the Gill and Venturi Scott Brown buildings, if it chooses not to understand or engage with them, then no one will winnot Selldorf, not the museum, and certainly not the village of La Jolla. The rare vitality achieved in the current building will not be easily recovered.

A shortened version of this story appeared in AN’s June print issue. This story has been updated to reflect new information.

Claude Monet’s architectural paintings take center stage in London exhibit (Video)

London’s National Gallery's landmark exhibition, “Monet & Architecture," is the first exhibition chronicling Claude Monet’s career through his paintings of architecture, from humble coastal villages to ostentatious halls of government. “Monet & Architecture” features more than 75 paintings by the leading impressionist artist. Richard Thomson, a fine arts professor at the University of Edinburgh, curated the show. In anticipation of the exhibition, the National Gallery released an animated trailer that sends the viewer soaring over the artist's compositions, rendered three-dimensional in a kind of paper-cut, handmade aesthetic. Monet described his unique approach to architectural scenes as based on the desire to “paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of the light in which they exist.” The architectural subject matter and the encircling environment are tied together in a mutually supportive relationship. With a career spanning from the mid-19th century to the early-20th century, the artist’s work effectively illustrates Europe’s Second Industrial Revolution and its radical reshaping of urban and agricultural life. Reflecting the societal shifts contemporary to Monet, the exhibit is divided into three sections– “The Village and the Picturesque," "The City and the Modern," and "The Monument and the Mysterious.” Urban ensembles, such as his numerous depictions of London’s smog-sodden River Thames and the Palace of Westminster, highlight the glaring contrast between historical scenes and the encroaching impact of modern society. Of the work displayed, more than a quarter are on loan from private collections across the globe. While the National Gallery possesses its own Monet collection, the museum coordinated with a broad range of institutions, such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art, to put the exhibition together. “Monet & Architecture” runs until July 29, and is located in the Venturi Scott Brown designed Sainsbury Wing.

A new future for Old City: Vision2026 puts Philadelphians, not tourists, first

At first pass, Philadelphia's Elfreth's Alley looks like any other quaint, well-preserved historic street in a typical northeastern U.S. city. Look closer, though, and it'd apparent that the rowhouses are much older than the 19th-century homes found in New York's West Village or Boston's Beacon Hill. That's because Elfreth's Alley welcomed its first residents in 1702: the block-long lane is the oldest continually occupied residential street in the United States. Although the street is afforded protection by its National Historic Landmark status, escalatingultra-bland development in Philly's historic core means that it, and the surrounding urban fabric, must protect their assets by conceiving of a future that balances site-sensitive private development with public amenities that cater to Philadelphians.
Old City District, a city-sponsored historic preservation group, commissioned planning consultants RBA Group and Philly–based Atkin Olshin Schade Architects to stake out a future for Old City. Vision2026 is intended to complement the City Planning Commission's Philadelphia2035 plan and, in a nod to local heritage, will coincide with the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
To some, Old City is thought to be bound by the Delaware River to the east, 4th Street to the west, Vine Street to the north, and Walnut Street to the south. The Old City District's definition is narrower, encompassing a 22-block area bounded by Front Street to the east, 6th Street to the west, Florist Street to the north, and Walnut and Dock streets to the south. The genesis of Vision2026 was a community discussion on development goals that began in January 2015. Traffic studies and user surveys evinced a desire for standard-issue urban features: Quality public space, public transportation access, better bike infrastructure, stores that serve the community's needs (especially a grocery store), and a development vision that encourages new investment without overriding the neighborhood's charm. The suggestions take a deep dive into specifics. To reduce car traffic, Vision2026 suggests improving bike infrastructure (addressing a lack of bike lanes and inconsistent linkage to the waterfront, for example) concurrently with initiatives to consolidate commercial package delivery, privilege commercial loading access over private parking, and promote the use of car shares. The population of Old City has grown 16 percent since 2000, and the area needs Complete Streets (streets designed for safe use by pedestrians, cars, and bicycles alike) to enhance the neighborhood's vitality. A proposal for a 2nd Street Station plaza (the 200 block of Market Street) envisions 14-foot sidewalks flanked by an allée-meets-bike lane. The proposal suggests eliminating street lights—a counterintuitive but effective traffic-calming measure—on the 10-foot-wide stretch of road set aside for private cars.
Although the vacancy rate hovers at around ten percent, studies show that, if current trends continue, the area could support an additional 122,000 square feet of retail. More than 1,000 new residential buildings in the district are proposed or currently under construction. Vision2026 echoes Robert Venturi's 1976 master plan for Old City, calling for redevelopment of the area's Victorian commercial and industrial buildings erected between 1840 and 1890. Eight parks, including the Venturi–designed Welcome Park, are highlighted as spaces to improve and capitalize upon. Activating underused areas around the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a priority: Proposals include an under-the-overpass market (like New York's Queensboro Bridge, but hopefully more successful) with restaurants and vendors, as well as wayfinding improvements, especially at night, to enhance connectivity between neighborhoods rent by the interstate. Next steps include beta-testing the ideas via tactical urbanism, temporary bike lanes, and legislative action, through zoning and permitting amendments, to pave the way for concrete improvements.

I Am a Monumental Gift Idea: Venturi Scott Brown Online Store Now Open

Last minute holiday shopping? Who isn't a fan of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown? Whether you like Rome, Las Vegas, or Levittown, you can find something useful from the duo. They are famous for quips like, "You don't have to like something to learn from it," and "I can like something worse than you can like." Venturi even called himself "The Dennis the Menace of Architecture." Now you can get all the fun '60s and '70s architectural debauchery delivered to your house, with the Learning from Bob and Denise store, online now with merchandise fit for a minor league sports team. The store is a fundraising effort for the documentary Learning from Bob and Denise, which chronicles the work of Venturi and Scott Brown, and is directed by their son, Jim Venturi, of ReThink NYC fame. The project is an ongoing project, and you can support it by buying some of the unique merchandise in the store. https://vimeo.com/64510496 The Venturis are cited as some of the most influential practitioners and theorists of their day. Their ongoing relevance makes them not only intellectually important, but culturally as well. So hop on the latest architectural craze and pickup a "Vanna Venturi House" T-Shirt, an "I am a Monument" (Thong), a Denise Scott Brown "Duck" Apron, or whatever your favorite Venturian would enjoy this holiday season.-

1970s Benjamin Franklin Museum Re-Opens as High-Tech Biographical Exhibit

The Benjamin Franklin Museum at Independence National Historical Park (INHP) in Philadelphia has bid adieu to the 1970s. Closed by the National Park Service (NPS) for a $23 million, two-year renovation, the historic site has re-opened as an 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility to learn about the “relevant revolutionary.” Quinn Evans Architects (QEA) was tasked with renovating the original 1976 underground museum designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (VSBA). The museum now involves interactive displays, personal artifacts, and a glass pavilion, also known as the ghost house, operating as the main entrance from Franklin Court. While VSBA’s "ghost house" pavilion remains largely untouched, one major change consists of the new entry building, which replaces heavy brick walls with a ground floor facade of “fritted glass,” a pattern created from photographs of the original pavilion’s brick wall. Slate floors replace burnt orange-tiled passageways. The firm has also designed a large “View Window” to engage visitors with the ghost house, a steel structure outlining Franklin’s vanished residence and print shop. While recognizing that the museum could benefit from an update and the expanded entry pavilion might be needed to accommodate roughly 250,000 annual visitors, Scott Brown was not thrilled that VSBA was not asked to carry out the project. When the project began, AN reported that Doris Fanelli, chief of INHP’s Division of Cultural Resources Management, contended that the NPS selected QEA from a pre-approved list because the venture was progressing quickly. Although confronted with reluctance from architectural scholars to alter the postmodern icon, NPS did not approach VSBA, who was not on the list. In a letter, VSBA wrote that more offensive is how the alterations rework the museum entry experience, which resembled former urban planner Edmund Bacon’s greenway plan for Society Hill.  

SHFT+ALT+DEL: August 3, 2012

Melissa Feldman has stepped into the role of East Coast Editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Prior to this, Feldman was a freelance design writer whose work appeared in The New York Times, The New York Post, and Azure among other publications. She previously served as Senior Style Editor at House & Garden magazine. Brien McDaniel was appointed Assistant Director of Communications at the Museum of Modern Art. Until July, McDaniel was the Director of PR for architecture firm FXFowle. The Rhode Island School of Design has tapped Pradeep Sharma as dean of architecture. Sharma, who starts this fall, comes to Providence from the Bath School of Art and Design at Bath Spa University in England. New York School of Interior Design has appointed David Sprouls as president of the college. Sprouls became Acting President in January, following tenures as Vice President for Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions for the school. Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates has officially evolved to VSBA, with president and principal Daniel K. McCoubrey at the helm. McCoubrey leads the firm with principal Nancy Rogo Trainer.      

Stern’s Revolution Museum Silences QEII Bell

After rejecting two plans for the Museum of the American Revolution at Valley Forge, the American Revolution Center (ARC) made a land swap with the National Park Service to secure a prime location in Center City Philadelphia. In exchange for donating their 78-acre property at the Valley Forge site, the Park Service will give the museum nearly two-thirds of the space of the former National Park Visitors Center near Independence Mall on Third Street. ARC selected Robert A.M. Stern to design the $150 million building. Stern told ThePhiladelphia Inquirer he plans to use “the language of traditional Philadelphia architecture.” The 1970s era building designed by Cambridge Seven and its redbrick modernist bell tower holding the Bicentennial Bell, a gift to United States from Queen Elizabeth II, will be demolished, and critics worry the future of the bell itself is uncertain. ARC plans to demolish the northern section of the center as well as the bell tower. The complex remains one of the few vestiges of the national park's bicentennial architecture, with Mitchell/Giurgola's Liberty Bell Pavilion now long gone and Venturi Scott Brown's Ghost House facing a facelift.  The old visitors center was never fully embraced, excepting the day of its commemoration when all the world watched as the monarch let bygones be bygones in the former rebel capitol. The bell was forged at Whitechapel Foundry in London, the same as the Liberty Bell, and it apparently works just as well. To be fair, it's the mechanism for the clapper that's out of order in the 1976 bell. The body of the bell remains solid. Its warm, low tone held a respectable sway over its stately neighbors for years, but all that will likely come to an end when the bell is moved. Independence National Historic Park spokesperson Jane Cowley told AN that the park is tentatively working on relocating the bell near the new museum at Dock Street, but it probably will not be hung from the rafters. It will be brought closer to the street-level for tourists to see rather than for the neighborhood to hear. "It's odd that one of the few remaining traces of the American Bicentennial celebrations is a bell that few visitors can see and none can hear and that was given by the country from which we fought for independence," one long time urban historian wrote in an email. The historian, who requested anonymity, also called into question status of the bell.  "If it's an artifact accessioned by the Park Service, there's a huge number of formal protocols that have to be followed," wrote the historian. "If it's not, it will be hugely easy for the bell to become mysteriously lost in the shuffle." The Queen, for one, had very specific intentions for the bell. It was to be rung with the inauguration of a president and the coronation of the British monarch, thus the bell’s inscription “Let Freedom Ring.” For some reason the Park Service began ringing the bell at 11AM and 3PM, which led Park employees to quip, “Let Freedom Ring, at 11 and 3.” The tower and visitors center complex were one of the more subtle examples of late modernism in the Society Hill section of the city.  The restored former slum is now what one pictures when imagining Philly's ubiquitous colonial charm. The tower's red brick planes somewhat obscure the bell, but pierced openings allow the sound to escape. Sidewalk access allows visitors to step beneath the bell to hear it ring--when it works. The old Park Service visitors center, along with much of the bicentennial architecture, brought a contemporary aesthetic to a national park commemorating forward-thinking forefathers. Nearby, dozens of discrete 1970s modernist interventions of quiet courtyards and low-slung row homes linked the 18th century to the 20th; one hopes that Stern's "language of traditional Philadelphia architecture" will speak as well to the twenty-first.

LIEBing for New Shores

The Lieb House, Robert Venturi’s second commission and once in danger of demolition, will soon be en route to its new location, but by sea, not by land. After a bit of resistance from Glen Cove town council, the house has been cleared to travel by barge to its new site in the Long Island town. The architect Frederic Schwartz and Jim Venturi, Robert’s son, led the fight to save the storied home. The beach house, completed in 1967 in Barnegat Light, New Jersey, was to be razed and replaced by its new owner. Schwartz and the Venturis negotiated a 10-day grace period to allow them to find a new location for the house before it was to be destroyed. They found a fitting new site for it alongside another Venturi-designed home on the Glen Cove property of Debbie Sarnoff and Robert Gotkin. The two-story, 2,000-square-foot Lieb House will now act as a guesthouse to the main residence. Featuring a large, segmented circular window and curiously large number “9” signage, the Lieb House became an immediate postmodern success. The not quite box-shaped home set the foundation for the then-burgeoning Venturi style. (Video courtesy The Press of Atlantic City). The Storefront for Art and Architecture is hosting a weeklong exhibition, including a pier party to watch it sail by, celebrating the house and its unusual move. Opening on March 11, the exhibition will feature a map highlighting the house’s current location, final destination, and the route it will take between the two. Original drawings and photographs of the house will also be on display. The following day, March 12, Storefront will present a conversation about the house and its fate with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. The couple had deplored the house’s once seemingly inescapable demise:

We think it is architecturally tragic: it is a very significant house. We enjoyed making it a Modernist box with views toward the sea via windows and a roof terrace, and with a big sign: "9". We loved that by accident the round window works as a halo to the neighbor's religious statue, and we loved working with wonderful, understanding clients.

Early on the morning after the discussion, the public is invited to Pier 17 between 7 am and 9 am, to watch the house cruise down the river toward its future habitat. Thirteen cameras, including a heli-cam, will be filming the move as part of a documentary on the house being produced by Jim Venturi.