Denise Scott Brown: A Must-Read Interview

Designers & Books editors Stephanie Salomon and Steve Kroeter sat down with Denise Scott Brown for a conversation centered around Learning from Las Vegas, the seminal work penned by Scott Brown, Robert Venturi, and Steven Izenour in 1972. The must-read interview reveals some fantastic insight into Scott Brown's personal and professional life - her unending love of neon (one which led her to Las Vegas), her distaste for the "tyranny of white paper" (which gravely afflicted the design of the first edition of Learning from Las Vegas),as well as her - rather surprising - position on awarding group creativity. Read the full interview here and check out some select quotes from the interview, after the break.

"It was April 1965. I’d seen pictures of Las Vegas and heard debate in planning school on the emerging automobile cities of the Southwest. I went west to see them and for five or six other reasons including, in the case of Las Vegas, an early love affair with neon."

"Our Strip photos are as detailed as Canaletto paintings and could have been laid out well on the big pages, but a tyranny of white paper reduced many to postage stamp size. And the book’s photo essay format, based on our need to explain our thesis through both words and pictures, challenged the template even further."

"Sorrowfully, I made the decision to avoid joint writing in the future. But this hardly solved the problem. No matter how my work was published or credited, it was seen as Venturi’s. The notion that we might both design seemed inconceivable. So was the prospect that ideas could initiate and grow in a ping-pong of creativity between several minds—even though architects have experienced this way of designing in their offices."

"A major message ofLearning from Las Vegashad to do with communication. We claimed that Las Vegas of the 1960s, a city that put 'symbols in space before form in space,' could teach us about communication in architecture, and in the second edition we added a subtitle, 'the forgotten symbolism of architectural form.' [...] But a second focus of the studio was on Las Vegas as an archetype of the auto city. We sought ways of documenting its evolving forms and patterns and understanding the forces that produced them. Our findings influenced how we plan in architecture and changed our concept of function."

"To the question, 'What did you learn from Las Vegas?' we gave different answers over the years. Now I’d say all of the above and more, and young architects today seem to realize this. An answer at another level is that what we stand for, what designing means for us, combines grasping intellectual challenge, looking and learning, facing hard realities social and otherwise, and drawing from them beautiful things—including the 'ugly' beauty of Las Vegas, for example."

"Urban design should not be confused with the design of large scale architecture or the search for pretty vistas. Our ideas should arise from an understanding of urban processes and the patterns urban activities form. But architects need this knowledge too."

"Consider the growing debate on group creativity. As we protagonists try to learn more about it, we should not rush to propose that prizes now go only to teams. But there’s a spectrum of forms of association. Let’s think of it all, and not flee rigidly to the opposite end. The same is true for the famous Zaha statement 'Context for an architect is a sheet of white paper.' I’m tempted to say that's terrible—it is terrible, but sometimes in designing, when you’ve read and thought yourself full you have to get a good night’s sleep and start again next morning as a newborn. The influences and contexts will return through your unconscious; and later you can vet the results of inspiration. You have to do both things. But I would use yellow paper. White is too scary. And so, according to many architects, is doing it all alone."

Read the full interview at Designers & Books

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "Denise Scott Brown: A Must-Read Interview" 08 Jan 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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