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Robert Venturi

“We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

09:30 - 24 September, 2018
“We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania (1978). Image © Tom Bernard
Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania (1978). Image © Tom Bernard

There are so many complexities and contradictions in life in general and architecture in particular. I am writing this intro to an interview I held in 2004 with Robert Venturi and his life-and-architecture partner Denise Scott Brown, while visiting Beijing’s Tsinghua University where I was invited to teach this fall. Was it simply a coincidence when, at the last moment before leaving my New York City apartment I would, almost by chance, grab a 2001 issue of Architecture magazine with Venturi on its cover and his contradictory quote, “I am not now and never have been a postmodernist.

I learned of Venturi's passing last week on my first day of teaching at Tsinghua; the news arrived as I and the students discussed their proposals to improve their campus. In yet another strange coincidence, Venturi and Scott Brown had, just prior to our interview, been working on their own proposal for the very same campus. It was a pleasant and bittersweet surprise then to hear my students speak of freeing up the campus in much the same ways as Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture attacked then domineering architecture of minimalism and abstraction over 50 years ago.

His and Scott Brown’s ideas for this campus did not materialize but their analytical and often rebellious thinking greatly influenced how students here and architects all over the world approach architecture. It was Venturi who freed our discipline, it was him who set us all free and encouraged to ask our own questions, to get away from all kinds of dogmas and to provoke ideas of hybridization. What follows is an excerpt from my conversation with the architects at their office in Philadelphia 14 years ago.  

“We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown “We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown “We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown “We Learn From the Ordinary as Well as From the Extraordinary”: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown + 13

This Week in Architecture: Complexity and Contradiction

09:30 - 21 September, 2018
This Week in Architecture: Complexity and Contradiction, © Denise Scott Brown
© Denise Scott Brown

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.

Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?

09:30 - 20 September, 2018
Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?, Randy’s Donuts shop and sign (a “decorated shed”) by Extra Medium (CC BY 2.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible
Randy’s Donuts shop and sign (a “decorated shed”) by Extra Medium (CC BY 2.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible

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.

Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi featuring playful and non-structural ornamentation. Image via 99 Percent Invisible Longaberger Basket Building image by Barry Haynes (CC BY-SA 3.0). Image via 99 Percent Invisible Guild House by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. Image via 99 Percent Invisible “Duck” versus “decorated shed, with Big Duck in Long Island (upper right). Image via 99 Percent Invisible + 5

Robert Venturi Passes Away at 93

15:00 - 19 September, 2018
Robert Venturi Passes Away at 93, © Rollin LaFrance / VSBA
© Rollin LaFrance / VSBA

Robert Venturi, famed-postmodernist and icon of American architecture, passed away Tuesday at the age of 93. Among Venturi’s many accolades were the 1991 Pritzker Prize, a Fellowship from the American Institute of Architects, and an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects. He started his firm in 1964, running it with his partner and wife Denise Scott Brown from 1967 until 2012. His legacy lives on as the firm continues under the name VSBA (Venturi Scott Brown Associates).

116 Best Architecture Books for Architects and Students

09:30 - 11 September, 2018
116 Best Architecture Books for Architects and Students, © Leandro Fuenzalida | ArchDaily
© Leandro Fuenzalida | ArchDaily

Architecture, while a profession that is very visibly and tangibly realized, has deep wells of research, thought, and theory that are unseen on the surface of a structure. What urges architects to design the way they do? What are their motivations, their affiliations, their interests? For practitioners and students alike, books on architecture offer invaluable context to the profession, be it practical, inspirational, academic, or otherwise. So, for those of you looking to expand your bookshelf (or confirm your own tastes), we have gathered a broad list of 116 architectural books that we consider of interest to those in the field. 

In compiling this list, we sought out titles from different backgrounds with the aim of revealing divergent cultural contexts. From essays to monographs, urban theory to graphic novels, each of the following either engage directly with or flirt on the edges of architecture.

The books on this list were chosen by each of our editors, and are categorized loosely by type. Within their categorization, they are organized alphabetically. Read on to see the books we consider valuable to anyone interested in architecture. 

Preservationists and Critics Aim to Save Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

16:00 - 16 August, 2018
Preservationists and Critics Aim to Save Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann

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.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Image © Phillipp Scholz Rittermann + 9

Spotlight: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

10:30 - 25 June, 2018
Spotlight: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Franklin Court, Philadelphia. Image © Mark Cohn
Franklin Court, Philadelphia. Image © Mark Cohn

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).

Love in Las Vegas: 99% Invisible Illuminates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Postmodern Romance

08:00 - 24 May, 2018
Love in Las Vegas: 99% Invisible Illuminates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Postmodern Romance, © <a href='https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=223416&picture=las-vegas-at-night'>Public Domain user Jean Beaufort</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/'>CC0 Public Domain</a>
© Public Domain user Jean Beaufort licensed under CC0 Public Domain

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.

Who Has Won the Pritzker Prize?

08:00 - 25 February, 2018
Who Has Won the Pritzker Prize?, Pritzker Prize 2017 Ceremony: Ryue Nishizawa, Tadao Ando, Kazuyo Sejima, Rafael Aranda, Glenn Murcutt, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban. Image © The Hyatt Foundation / Pritzker Architecture Prize
Pritzker Prize 2017 Ceremony: Ryue Nishizawa, Tadao Ando, Kazuyo Sejima, Rafael Aranda, Glenn Murcutt, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban. Image © The Hyatt Foundation / Pritzker Architecture Prize

The Pritzker Prize is the most important award in the field of architecture, awarded to a living architect whose built work "has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity through the art of architecture." The Prize rewards individuals, not entire offices, as took place in 2000 (when the jury selected Rem Koolhaas instead of his firm OMA) or in 2016 (with Alejandro Aravena selected instead of Elemental); however, the prize can also be awarded to multiple individuals working together, as took place in 2001 (Herzog & de Meuron), 2010 (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA), and 2017 (Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta of RCR Arquitectes).

The award is an initiative funded by Jay Pritzker through the Hyatt Foundation, an organization associated with the hotel company of the same name that Jay founded with his brother Donald in 1957. The award was first given in 1979, when the American architect Philip Johnson, was awarded for his iconic works such as the Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.

The Pritzker Prize has been awarded for almost forty straight years without interruption, and there are now 18 countries with at least one winning architect. To date, half of the winners are European; while the Americas, Asia, and Oceania share the other twenty editions. So far, no African architect has been awarded, making it the only continent without a winner.

Understanding British Postmodernism (Hint: It’s Not What You Thought)

04:00 - 29 March, 2017
Understanding British Postmodernism (Hint: It’s Not What You Thought), Staff Accommodation block at St Paul’s Girl’s School, by John Melvin (1985), photographed by Martin Charles. Image © John Melvin
Staff Accommodation block at St Paul’s Girl’s School, by John Melvin (1985), photographed by Martin Charles. Image © John Melvin

In this essay by the British architect and academic Dr. Timothy Brittain-Catlin, the very notion of British postmodernism—today often referred to as intimately tied to the work of James Stirling and the the thinking of Charles Jencks—is held to the light. Its true origins, he argues, are more historically rooted.

I grew up in a beautiful late Victorian terrace with ornamental brickwork, shaped ‘Dutch’ gables and pretty arts and crafts stained glass windows – and so I didn’t think then, and I don’t think now, that I had much to learn from Las Vegas. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one. Of British architects who made their names as postmodernists in the 1980s, not a single one would say now that they owed much to Robert Venturi, the American architect widely considered to be a grandfather of movement.

Mercers’ House, Essex Road, Highbury, London, by John Melvin (1992), photographed by Martin Charles. Doctors’ Surgery frontage to Mitchison Road. Image © John Melvin Mercers’ House, Essex Road, Highbury, London, by John Melvin (1992), photographed by Martin Charles. Image © John Melvin Epping Forest Civic Offices, by Richard Reid (1984-90). Axonometric by Richard Reid. Image © Richard Reid & Associates Mercers’ House, Essex Road, Highbury, London, by John Melvin (1992), photographed by Martin Charles. Image © John Melvin + 6

The AR Celebrates 50 Years of Venturi's "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture"

06:00 - 4 January, 2017
The AR Celebrates 50 Years of Venturi's "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", AD Classics: Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek
AD Classics: Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek

The Architectural Review has recently published an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Robert Venturi’s book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, which is regarded as one of the most important writings about architecture since Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture. In the article, Martino Stierli—Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art—delves into the significance of Venturi’s work, the motivation behind it, its continuing impact, and more. Read the full article at the Architectural Review, here.

Machine Learning from Las Vegas – Volume #49: Hello World!

04:00 - 20 October, 2016
Machine Learning from Las Vegas – Volume #49: Hello World!, Aspen Movie Map application and interface, Architecture Machine Group, MIT, 1978. Image © Volume
Aspen Movie Map application and interface, Architecture Machine Group, MIT, 1978. Image © Volume

The following essay by Pierre Cutellic was first published by Volume Magazine in their 49th issue, Hello World! You can read the Editorial of this issue, Going Live, here.

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

Denise Scott Brown On the Past, Present and Future of VSBA's Groundbreaking Theories

09:30 - 7 October, 2016
Denise Scott Brown On the Past, Present and Future of VSBA's Groundbreaking Theories, Franklin Court, Philadelphia (1976). Image © Mark Cohn
Franklin Court, Philadelphia (1976). Image © Mark Cohn

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.

AD Classics: Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery London / Venturi Scott Brown

04:00 - 10 February, 2016
AD Classics: Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery London / Venturi Scott Brown, The Sainsbury Wing as seen from Trafalgar Square. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis
The Sainsbury Wing as seen from Trafalgar Square. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis

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 'Echo Façade'. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis Ground floor lobby with rustication. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis © Valentino Danilo Matteis Stairway. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis + 17

Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi Win 2016 AIA Gold Medal

09:25 - 3 December, 2015
Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi Win 2016 AIA Gold Medal, © Frank Hanswijk
© Frank Hanswijk

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.

Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania (1978). Image © Tom Bernard Episcopal Academy Chapel, Newtown Square (2008). Image © Matt Wargo Franklin Court, Philadelphia (1976). Image © Mark Cohn Vanna Venturi House (1964). Image © Rollin LaFrance + 7

History For Sale: Postmodern Vanna Venturi House on the Market

16:00 - 17 July, 2015
History For Sale: Postmodern Vanna Venturi House on the Market, AD Classics: Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek
AD Classics: Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek

Robert Venturi's Vanna Venturi House is now for sale. According to reports on Curbed, the postmodern home could be yours for just $1.75 million! Said to be one of the top 10 buildings that "changed America," the house was originally designed and built by the Pritzker Prize laureate for his mother in 1964. The home's most recent owner, University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Thomas P. Hughes passed away February, leaving the historic residence to his daughter who is now selling the home.

Light Matters: A Flash Back to the Glittering Age of Las Vegas at the Neon Museum

09:30 - 23 June, 2015
Light Matters: A Flash Back to the Glittering Age of Las Vegas at the Neon Museum, Fremont Street at night in Downtown Las Vegas in 1952. Image © Edward N. Edstrom (Public Domain via Wikimedia)
Fremont Street at night in Downtown Las Vegas in 1952. Image © Edward N. Edstrom (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

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.

Neon Museum featuring more than 150 unrestored signs, Las Vegas. Image © Neon Museum, www.neonmuseum.org Front exterior of the Mint Hotel, Las Vegas / Nevada, circa 1957. Image © University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries. Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) Collection. Colour-changing neon sign on the façade of the Stardust Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, 1969. Image © University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries. Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) Collection. La Concha Motel lobby building, designed in 1961, was rescued from demolition and moved to its current location in 2007 to serve as the Neon Museum’s visitors’ center. Architect: Paul Williams. Las Vegas. Image © Neon Museum, www.neonmuseum.org + 7

17 Napkin Sketches by Famous Architects

14:38 - 5 June, 2015
17 Napkin Sketches by Famous Architects, Wolf Prix. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego
Wolf Prix. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego

The napkin sketch has always had its place in architecture. Now, some of the world's more respected architects have donated their very own conceptual doodles to the NewSchool and San Diego American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) in an effort that helped raise thousands to fund scholarships and programs for architecture students.

"The event was a big success,” said David Garcia, a NewSchool architecture undergraduate and fundraising chair for the AIAS event. “Personally, this project means a lot to me, and not just because of the time and involvement, but because this is a nice way to bring students and their favorite architects together, even if it's just through a sketch. Plus, since it's a fundraiser, the proceeds have been a great help to the success of the chapter.”

Take a look at all 17 napkin sketches from Bjarke Ingels, Wolf Prix, Thom Mayne, Robert Venturi, Zaha Hadid and others, after the break.

Zaha Hadid. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego Thom Mayne. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego Kurt Hunker. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego Massimiliano Fuksas. Image Courtesy of NewSchool and AIAS San Diego + 17