It is not quite often that the world symbolizes a person’s work with a whole movement and style in architecture, and the ones whose work has been, are legends of the field of Architecture. Robert Venturi would always be associated with Postmodernism, through his eloquent Writings and built works that strike a chord with those that called for an escape from modernism, also saving it from itself. 

Like other Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates before him, he is a writer, a teacher, an artist, and a philosopher, as well as an architect. Being one of the most popular architectural figures of the 20th century, he is the principal architect of the firm Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates, with his spouse Scott Brown as a partner.

Here are some of his exemplary works.

1. Vanna Venturi House

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Front View of the Vanna Venturi House_©Upenn

To learn from other contemporary architects and yet outgrow it is exactly what Robert venturi did when he was first asked to build a house for his mother when he was 34. The Vanna Venturi House took 6 years to complete, but when it did, it made sure to create an architectural statement that would define the start of an era, an era of Postmodernism. 

The house blends in it the features of works from other modernist contemporary architects such as M.V Rohe and F.L Wright but brings back into picture ornamentation, a feature that was let go by Modernism.

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A view that shows the complexity in design of the Vanna Venturi House_SmallBones

Robert Venturi in his book titled the same, by coming up with a design that finely balances the composition of rectangular, curvilinear, and diagonal elements coming together (or sometimes juxtaposing each other) in a way that inarguably creates complexity and contradiction. 

The imagery of a suburban Shelter is portrayed in the Vanna Venturi House, which does not shy away from its wide symmetrical gable like a classical split pediment, the oversized chimney, the ornamented arch, and the usage of windows varying in size and function.

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2. The Guild House

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Front View from the street_Wikipedia.org

The guild House, sits along an ordinary suburban street, merely existing as a building with nothing grand or extraordinary, expressing its symmetry and iconography as means of a diversion from the “dry expressionism” and austerity of modern buildings. Yet the building did prove to be a starting point for postmodernism as a movement to take place rather than in just writings by Robert Venturi in his books such as Complexity and contradiction in Architecture, A View from the Campidoglio, and Learning from Las Vegas.

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The guild house with the antenna still in place_larryspeck.com

Built as an apartment to house the elderly with low-income groups, the Guild House was one of Robert Venturi’s first major projects. The project even finds its way into the Philadelphia Register of historic buildings, not entirely by its form, but by the context of the Post-Modern Era. In contrast to another “modernist” building, the Crawford Manor, the Guild house contradicts the machine-like divisions of modernism, owing to the proportions of a renaissance palace. 

Built with a stepped symmetric façade that sports an arched window on the top floor, the brick-lined exterior, the stripe that divides the 6-floor building unequally form statements of a post-modernist style.

3. Book: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture – Robert Venturi

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Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture_amazon.in

“Complexity and Contradiction” was famously characterized by Vincent Scully, in his introduction to the book, as “probably the most important writing on the making of architecture since Le Corbusier’s “Vers une architecture, of 1923.”.  While described by Venturi himself as a “gentle manifesto,” it is generally agreed that “Complexity and Contradiction” has lived up to the loftier assessment made by Scully.

The book is commonly associated as the potent written piece of architectural expressionism that expressed early post-modernism. It sort of became the guidebook for postmodern condition as a shorthand, containing various recognizable features: it expands the architectural canon, embraces the vernacular, and adopts linguistic modes for the interpretation of art. 

But focusing on those things, true as they are, is a projection onto the book of characteristics of what came later. It provided a theoretical base for architects to transform the architectural design from Modern to contemporary.

4. Book: A View from the Campidoglio – Robert Venturi

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A View from the Campidoglio – Robert Venturi_Amazon.in

Robert Venturi’s inclination towards a change in Architectural trend that existed at the time has reverberated when he talks about how Architects were earlier praised for their consistency and Originality in their designs, but the modern-day designers need to focus on diversifying the work, by building to what the context requires. Though the book and the approach by the Architect seem to be what was required eventually, some of his work might seem anti-climatic to observers.

A View from the Campidoglio is a collection of 17 essays in the careers of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown that span 32 years, giving the readers a detailed insight through their most influential and popular periods. The first of the series starts with Robert Venturi’s time at Princeton during his Master’s thesis and then later takes off fifteen years ahead, around the time when the critical book on modernism was released, ‘Complexity and Contradiction’. 

Their theoretical background enables them to correctly critique the bland and lifeless creations modernism was producing towards its end and the need for the rise of buildings with more character.

5. Interview: Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown, by Andrea Tamas

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Robert Venturi and Scott Brown_Frank Hanswijk

The Interview hosted by Andrea Tamas, Features Robert Venturi and his spouse and Partner of Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates, Scott Brown. The Interview deals with vast topics such as the interpretation of Postmodernism, the so-called “revolution through Modernism” as simply being more of an evolution, The importance of Urban planning and Architecture at different scales, the growing influence of electronic iconography in this computerized era, and much more. 

The differences between getting a commission through Architectural competitions and that through discussion with a client are some more insightful episodes that give us a sneak peek into their thought processes.

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Front View of Congregational Beth El_Matt Wargo
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Episcopal Academy Chapel_Matt Wargo

Their take on Hollywood movies and Architectural stardom, fall into place where the perception of growing trends in Architecture and how things, now, in today’s time seem to be getting too competitive. While the interview started with their take on Jim Venturi’s Book on the couples’ lives, through their son’s POV, it draws a curtain by talking about sexism and the couple’s personal and professional lives, coping through teamwork, and the importance of criticism.

References

(A View from the Campidoglio, 2021)

Pritzkerprize.com. (2018). Biography: Robert Venturi | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/biography-robert-venturi.

(Book Review: A View from the Campidoglio, 2021)

Perez, A. (2010). AD Classics: Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/62743/ad-classics-vanna-venturi-house-robert-venturi.

ArchDaily. (2011). Interview: Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown, by Andrea Tamas. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/130389/interview-robert-venturi-denise-scott-brown-by-andrea-tamas.

Moma.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/d/pdfs/W1siZiIsIjIwMTkvMDcvMDEvOHI4MnI1aW1qcV9XZWJTYW1wbGVfQ29tcGxleGl0eV9Wb2xfMWFuZDIucGRmIl1d/WebSample_Complexity_Vol_1and2.pdf?sha=de7bd6b30f97ab4e> [Accessed 14 April 2021].

RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2020). The Guild House, Pennsylvania by Robert Venturi: Most influential work of 20th-century architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/case-studies/a2674-the-guild-house-pennsylvania-by-robert-venturi-most-influential-work-of-20th-century-architecture/ [Accessed 18 Apr. 2021].

Author

Darsan Babu, an architect, dreamer and a storyteller who loves to take on challenges and reform perspectives on some days, but sit by the mountain and quote words of Howard Roark on others. Would love to explore all things architecture, educate and shape the Urbanscape soon enough.

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