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).
Venturi Scott Brown And Associates
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.
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.
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.
According to one survey, images of the BEST Products Showroom in Houston, Texas, designed by SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), appeared in more books on 20th-century architecture than any other building. The intentionally crumbling brick at that Houston store, known as “Indeterminate Façade,” and the eight other showrooms SITE designed, were simultaneously iconic and controversial, and most importantly for BEST, they brought in customers. Although SITE-founder James Wines never considered himself a Postmodernist architect, his designs for BEST, completed between 1972 and 1984, steeped in whimsical social commentary, came to symbolize the essence of Postmodernism. Today, all but one of the BEST showrooms have been demolished or altered beyond recognition, but they set a lasting precedent, and continue to influence the use of architecture in corporate branding today.
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.
Robert Venturi has joined nearly 4,000 advocates in the call to retrospectively acknowledge Denise Scott Brown as a joint Pritzker Prize laureate, stating: “Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner.”
His support was then quickly followed by Rem Koolhaas, who stated: “I totally support this action. The fact that one of the most creative and productive partnerships we have ever seen in architecture was separated rather than celebrated by a prize has been an embarrassing injustice which it would be great to undo.”
More updates after the break...
During a speech at the AJ Women in Architecture luncheon in London last week, postmodern icon Denise Scott Brown requested to be acknowledged retrospectively for her role in Robert Venturi’s 1991 Pritzker Prize, describing Pritzker’s inability to acknowledge her involvement as “very sad”.
Although at the time of the award Brown had co-partnered their practice Venturi Scott Brown and Associates for over 22 years and played a critical role in the evolution of architectural theory and design alongside Venturi for the over 30 years, as well as co-authored the transformative 1970’s book Learning from Las Vegas, her role as “wife” seemed to have trumped her role as an equal partner when the Pritzker jury chose to only honor her husband, Venturi.
More information and an online petition after the break...