Robert Venturi - and the postmodernist movement he helped to form - was occasionally a divisive figure. For hardcore modernists, the referencing of prior styles was an affront to the future-facing architecture they had tried to promote. For traditionalists, the ebullient and kitschy take on classicism was an insult to the elegance of the past.
Denise Scott Brown
Though the Las Vegas Strip may be garish to some, with its borderline intrusive décor and “pseudo-historical” architecture, some professional architects, most notably Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, have become captivated by the “ornamental-symbolic elements” the buildings present. The two architects developed the curious design distinction between a “duck” and a “decorated shed”, depending on the building’s decorative form. In his essay for 99% Invisible, Lessons from Sin City: The Architecture of “Ducks” versus “Decorated Sheds”, Kurt Kohlstedt explores how the architects implemented their knowledge of ornamentation in their own works and began an architectural debate still ongoing today.
Next month, American architect Denise Scott Brown will receive the 2018 Soane Medal, an award given to "architects who have made a major contribution to their field, through their built work, through education, history and theory." A powerhouse jury that included Sir David Chipperfield, Paul Goldberger, Farshid Moussavi, Alice Rawsthorn, Oliver Wainwright selected Scott Brown for the second edition of the award. The 2017 Soane Medal was given to Rafael Moneo.
Sir David Chipperfield, Trustee of Sir John Soane’s Museum, said: ‘The jury considered many outstanding candidates; however 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. Her example has been an inspiration to many, and we are delighted to honour her with the awarding of the Soane Medal.’
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego recently released plans to begin demolition on a portion of its La Jolla building designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Aiming to expand and renovate, the museum is facing mounting criticism from a range of architects, critics and historians. The new plan calls for Venturi Scott Brown's exterior colonnade into Axline Court to be removed, and for the museum's neon-accented entry atrium to be repurposed as a public gathering space. With a part of the colonnade already removed, critics have signed an open letter hoping to save VSB's work.
Through their pioneering theory and provocative built work, husband and wife duo Robert Venturi (born June 25, 1925) and Denise Scott Brown (born October 3, 1931) were at the forefront of the postmodern movement, leading the charge in one of the most significant shifts in architecture of the 20th century by publishing seminal books such as Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (authored by Robert Venturi alone) and Learning from Las Vegas (co-authored by Venturi, Scott Brown and Steven Izenour).
There’s something irresistible about Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s architectural romance. They met when they were both young professors at the University of Pennsylvania; Scott Brown held seminars in city planning, and Venturi gave lectures in architectural theory. As the story goes, Scott Brown argued in her first faculty meeting that Frank Furness’ masterful Venetian gothic library should not be torn down to build a plaza (then a dissenting opinion). Venturi approached her after the meeting, offering his support. As Paul Goldberger wrote of the couple in 1971, “as their esthetic viewpoints grew closer and closer, so did their feelings toward each other.” Architecture lovers can’t help but love the architect-lovers.
Love in Las Vegas: 99% Invisible Illuminates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Postmodern Romance
Which building is better, the duck or the ornamented shed? More importantly, what kind of architecture does the average American prefer? In their landmark 1972 publication Learning From Las Vegas, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi probed these questions by turning their back on paternalistic modernism in favor of the glowing, overtly kitsch, and symbolic Mecca of the Las Vegas strip. From a chance encounter during a meeting in the Library of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and shared trips to the strip to critically shaping a new generation of architects, discover the hidden details of the romance and city that defined postmodernism in this latest episode from 99% Invisible.
This short essay was written by Elizabeth Darling and Lynne Walker, the curators of AA XX 100 – a multi-media project celebrating the centenary of women in London's Architectural Association (1917-2017).
Zaha Hadid, Amanda Levete, Patty Hopkins, Denise Scott Brown, and Minnette de Silva are familiar names of women who were products of the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA). Less familiar are the women who paved the way for the global careers of these architecture superstars.
Established in 2013, the AA XX 100 project was initiated to tell the story of women at the AA, with the aim of commemorating the centenary (this year) of their admission to the school with an exhibition, book, and international conference. When the project began we didn't know the names of the first students but, four years on, we do, and in telling their story—and that of the generations of women who followed them—we see that their history is at once a history of the AA and architectural education, as well as a history of British and world architecture across the 20th and 21st Centuries.
Denise Scott Brown has won the 2017 Jane Drew Prize, an award that recognizes an architectural designer who has “raised the profile of women in architecture” through their work and commitment to design excellence, as a part of The Architectural Review’s (AR) Women in Architecture Awards.
Scott Brown’s receipt of the prize is a culmination of the grassroots drive to see her contribution to the profession adequately recognized – a movement that sprung from the Women in Architecture campaign in 2013–a quarter of a century after her partner Robert Venturi was awarded the Pritzker.
“Things have happened which have made me very happy in my old age and one of those is this prize,” said Scott Brown.
Update: We've added links to help you find these books for purchase and, in 5 of 8 cases, tracked down a way you can read them online for free!
Quality over quantity, so the saying goes. With so many concepts floating around the architectural profession, it can be difficult to keep up with all the ideas which you're expected to know. But in architecture and elsewhere, the most memorable ideas are often the ones that can be condensed textually: “form follows function,” “less is more,” “less is a bore.” Though slightly longer than three words, the following lists a selection of texts that don’t take too long to read, but impart long-lasting lessons, offering you the opportunity to fill gaps in your knowledge quickly and efficiently. Covering everything from loos to Adolf Loos, the public to the domestic, and color to phenomenology, read on for eight texts to place on your reading list:
The relevant revolution today is the current electronic one. Architecturally, the symbol systems that electronics purveys so well are more important than its engineering content. The most urgent technological problem facing us is the humane meshing of advanced scientific and technical systems with our imperfect and exploited human systems, a problem worthy of the best attention of architecture's scientific ideologues and visionaries.
—Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas
Through their books, theories and design projects, there's no doubt that Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi dramatically altered the course of architecture at the end of the Modernist period. In this interview conducted at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2013, Shalmali Wagle and Alen Žunić talk with Scott Brown about the origins of the groundbreaking theories that underpinned the work of Venturi Scott Brown and Associates, what she is working on now, and her hopes for the future of the profession.
When you decided to practice architecture, was there a second option? What could have been your alternate career?
Because my mother had studied architecture, I wanted as a child, to be an architect, and as she drew a great deal for us, I spent much of my preschool life drawing and painting. In grade school I loved my teachers and wanted to do what they did. And in middle school I wanted to write, study languages, travel, and perhaps be a librarian—a career I saw as appropriate to my interests and open to women. But on entering architecture school, I saw only men there (5:60 was the ratio everywhere, until almost 1980). But the architects I knew were women, so I had thought it was a female's profession. "What are all these men doing in the studio?" I asked myself. When I was 40 I looked back and realized I had had all the roles I hoped to have but within the framework of architecture.
The Global Arts Affairs Foundation (GAA), in collaboration with PLANE—SITE, is releasing a series of video interviews with architects to be shown as part of the TIME SPACE EXISTENCE Exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. At the start of Denise Scott Brown's interview, the architect declares,"I've fought to make buildings useful and beautiful, and in that order." In her segment, Scott Brown elaborates on the need for architects to consult multiple precedents to be most effective, the view that photography has become a sub-discipline of architecture, and her position as a role model for young female architects. For her complete perspective, watch Scott Brown's interview, and read on for a complete list of the other interviewees.
Venturi Scott-Brown’s National Gallery Sainsbury Wing extension (1991) was born into a precarious no-man’s land between the warring camps of neo-Modernists and traditionalists who had been tussling over the direction of Britain’s cities for much of the prior decade. The site of the extension had come to be one of the most symbolic battlefields in British architecture since a campaign to halt its redevelopment with a Hi-Tech scheme by Ahrends Burton Koralek had led to that project’s refusal at planning in 1984.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced Denise Scott Brown, hon. FAIA and Robert Venturi, FAIA, as joint winners of the 2016 AIA Gold Medal. The AIA cited the duo for their "built projects as well as literature that set the stage for Postmodernism and nearly every other formal evolution in architecture." Scott Brown and Venturi are the first ever pair to receive the Gold Medal, after the AIA approved a change to its bylaws in 2013 that allowed the award to be presented to up to two individuals working together.
Zaha Hadid, Kengo Kuma, Daniel Libeskind, Nieto Sobejano, Denise Scott Brown and Philip Treacy reveal the childhood recollections that have shaped their outstanding visions and work.
Architects and designers are often asked whose work inspired them as students and influenced their thinking, but Roca London Gallery’s autumn show suggests that design inspiration actually goes back much further than this, into early childhood, and can take some unexpected forms.
Thanks to the increasing availability of giant LED screens, the Golden Age of Neon has quietly faded in Las Vegas. For decades casinos defined their visual identity with colorful neon signs and competed for the most innovative signage. But with casinos closing, being refurbished and the arrival of new lighting technology a lot of neon signs were replaced, and for many years the Young Electric Sign Company kept the old neon signs in their "boneyard" for storage and recycling. Fortunately historic preservation groups rescued these signs. With support of the arts council The Neon Museum was born to save neon treasures and to educate the public.
Read on to explore Las Vegas' luminous landmarks and The Neon Museum.
To celebrate International Women's Day, we asked the Brazilian non-profit group Arquitetas Invisíveis to share with us a part of their work, which identifies women in architecture and urbanism. They kindly shared with us a list of 48 important women architects, divided into seven categories: pioneers, "in the shadows," architecture, landscape architecture, social architecture, urbanism and sustainable architecture. We will be sharing this list over the course of the week.
Yesterday we brought you The Pioneers, and today we present the women architects that have lived in "the shadows" of the some of the great names in the architecture world.