The pop-art house of the 1960s and its significance throughout the years
The Lieb house, as tiny as it appears, has a history way beyond its size. Designed by Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates, a Philadelphia-based design firm headed by Robert Venturi himself, the Lieb house was designed for clients Nathaniel and Judith Lieb along the coast of Jersey at Barnegat Light, N.J.
Being one of the earliest collaborations between Venturi and his now-wife Scott Brown, the Lieb house is a masterpiece of its time and a classic example of abstract modern art playfully used in the field of architecture. Designed and constructed in 1964, the Lieb house stood out from its neighborhood for its unique architecture. This design stands as a testimony to Venturi and Brown’s belief, that “ordinary is the new extraordinary”
Robert Venturi is a staunch follower of Symbolism and believed that architects must respond to the reality of the popularly built environment with buildings regarding the environment. He often admired roadside buildings as simple as a decorated shed as he was convinced that these buildings offered important design lessons that are often ignored.
As a response to the site conditions, the Lieb house is designed with the idea of glorifying the ordinary. Referred to Venturi himself as a Banal box, the Lieb house is a Pop art influenced house with a Huge number 9 greeting the visitor at the entrance. This depicts Venturi’s use of signage in his designs. Followed by a crescent window on the side. This design was extremely contrasting to the then-existing landscape of the shore where clotheslines and telephone poles were essential to the landscape. This contrasting difference in the architecture of the vicinity caused a lot of controversy and disapproval from the neighbors to the point where one neighbor cut ties with the Liebs after construction.
Designed with functionality in mind, common living spaces and outdoor spaces are treated separately. The Lieb house is set up so that the living spaces and kitchen are on the second floor due to the optimal, picturesque view present at that height and the bedrooms are fitted into the first. There are a total of four small bedrooms tucked into the first floor. On par with its theme of glorifying the ordinary, Venturi designed the laundry room to be at the entrance of the house, greeting the visitors. This house is celebrated by Venturi in his book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.
Staying true to the concept of celebrating the ordinary, Venturi chose easily workable materials. He makes use of painted asbestos siding for the skin and a wooden balloon frame for the structure. Precast concrete is used for the entry stairway.
Although the Lieb house is celebrated as an architectural success in the field of modern art and progressive architecture, it received a lot of criticism and dislike during the completion of the project.
Almost 40 years later, following the purchase of the property by developer Michael Ziman, the 1,500 sq ft project was set to be demolished in 2009.
This was widely opposed by the many veterans of Venturi’s architecture. James Venturi, the son of the architects, fought against tearing down the building. Luckily, two people namely – Deborah Sarnoff (a dermatologist) and Robert Gotkin (a plastic surgeon) bought the property for the low price of $1. However, they also had to bear the shifting expenses, which included the complete relocation of the Lieb house from Jersey to their Primary residence in Glen Cove on Long Island, NY. The house was moved through the Atlantic ocean, passing under the Verrazano Bridge and statue of liberty, where a huge crowd of new yorkers was present cheering.
The entire move cost about $100,000 with additional costs for repairs. As the house wasn’t insulated, all the interior walls were removed and rebuilt after which insulation was installed. A new heater and air-conditioning system were installed. The original windows were already replaced with Double-glazed models which were left as it was. During the move, one of the front steps cracked which required repairing. The original wicker furniture of the 1960s is now replaced with sleek modern furniture. The all-white color scheme of the Lieb house is recreated and the kitchen cabinets and living area banquette are preserved as it is.
Lieb House in the present
The current address of the Lieb house is in the residence of the Sarnoff and Gotkin couple at Glen Cove, Long Island where it has unobscured views from the second floor as it was initially intended. It serves as a guest house and honors the legacy left behind.
When asked how it felt to move an iconic piece of architecture to save it from destruction Scott Brown said “It lost its context, so there’s no point grieving for the fact that it had to move, It’s now a temple of contemplation on a very serene site.”
The whole struggle and process of the move is documented and filmed by James Venturi under the name “Saving Lieb House”
As stated by Gotkin “It may be small in size, but it’s not small in character.”
- Viladas, P. (2012). Domesticities | Lieb House, Saved. [online] T Magazine. Available at: https://archive.nytimes.com/tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/domesticities-lieb-house-saved/ [Accessed 28 Aug. 2022].
- www.architecturalrecord.com. (n.d.). Venturi’s Lieb House Relocated By Boat | 2009-03-10 | Architectural Record. [online] Available at: https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/4843-venturis-lieb-house-relocated-by-boat [Accessed 28 Aug. 2022].