The latest instalment of our new series of AR Reading Lists: seven carefully chosen pieces from our archive, free for registered users
Had he still strolled this earth, yesterday would have been Robert Venturi’s 95th birthday. Along with his partner in work, life, and longtime collaborator Denise Scott Brown, Venturi is remembered as the progenitor of Postmodernism in architecture – even though, as Martino Stierli pointed out in 2016, he consistently insisted on being a Modernist.
Venturi and Scott Brown aimed to dismantle the heroic and bring an audience to the everyday, with generations of young architects and critics wading through Complexity and Contradiction, ‘just as generations have tried to like the house Venturi created for his mother to illustrate it’, as Paul Davies put it when writing the pair’s Reputations in 2014. Postmodernism may have fallen far from fashion, with ‘low’ culture now of little interest, but the lessons learned of expression, of sign, icon and reference, live on.
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- Denise Scott Brown (1931- ) and Robert Venturi (1925-2018), AR March 2014, Paul Davies
‘With Corb mouldering in the grave, Venturi published his first book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966. Although spiritually indebted to Kahn, Venturi perceived an ongoing problem with “the heroic” and a burgeoning of interest in “the everyday”: a need for a gentle manifesto’
- The enduring significance of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, AR online December 2016, Martino Stierli
‘Like Learning from Las Vegas (1972), Complexity and Contradiction has been hailed as a source text of architectural Postmodernism, even though Venturi consistently insisted on being a Modernist’
- Denise Scott Brown and the fight for recognition, AR March 2017, Mimi Zeiger
‘Discussing Scott Brown solely as a feminist role model can be maddening and limiting. As if celebrating only this facet of her career fails to properly acknowledge her contributions to design and theory and reinforces the very power dynamics that she has fought so hard against.’
- Iconicity in architecture, AR July/August 2017, Ruth Lang
‘What are the parameters by which such status is measured? We might derive these from the physical context of buildings: how they achieve monumentality through their transcendence of scale, or serve as symbols of the culture in which they are constructed’
- Sign of the times: Learning from Las Vegas returns, AR March 2018, Paul Davies
‘For the Venturis there was no death in Vegas. It was time to clamber aboard the “great proletarian cultural locomotive”. “Main street is almost alright”, “billboards are almost alright” represented a classically liberal anti-authoritarian stance’
- Conspicuous consumption: fast-food architecture, AR October 2018, Mimi Zeiger
‘We know the trope: architecture as sign, sign as architecture. In 1990, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, masters of the form, exploited it for their McDonald’s in Lake Buena Vista. For decades, fast-food outlets subscribed to the model, but restaurant trends now emphasise lifestyle over sign, and your burger now comes with a side of personal values’
- Fashion victims: the evolution of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, AR February 2019, Izzy Kornblatt
‘The museum was in effect announcing an aesthetic change of course: out with neon, in with second-hand Mies. This explains why they felt the need to demolish so much of Venturi Scott Brown’s building: the high/low cultural mix that they perfected has been decisively out of style since the early 2000s’
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