Robert Venturi was born in 1925 in Philadelphia and is an American architect. He is well known for being a pioneer of postmodern architecture. In his book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture has clearly mentioned that he is utterly intrigued by contradiction and complexity in architecture. He has a sheer distaste for the incomprehensible and arbitrariness of amateurish architecture. He is also not stirred by the delightful intricacies or expressionism. The American architect loves to focus on complex architecture established solely on the richness and obscurity of modern experience, inclusive of the experience inherent in art. Robert Venturi had an affinity for hybrid elements over pure elements, something that is not straightforward and challenges the stereotypes. He was drawn toward making designs that were more contrary and impersonal, something that is boring and interesting at the same time.

Allen Memorial Art Museum by Robert Venturi - Sheet1
Allen Memorial Art Museum_©httpsen.wikipedia.orgwikiAllen

Established in 1917, in Oberlin, Ohio, the Allen Memorial Art Museum houses over 15,000 works of art. It is an Italian renaissance-style architecture designed by the renowned architect Cass Gilbert. The museum is termed after Dr. Dudley Peter Allen, the founder, graduate, and depositary of Oberlin college.  The museum is run by Oberlin College. The addition to Allen Memorial Art Museum also famously known as AMAM was designed by Robert Venturi and his beloved wife Denise Scott Brown in 1977. Together they have worked on numerous notable projects. To name a few, the Seattle Museum of Art, the addition of Sainsbury to the National Gallery in London, and so on. His designs are distinctive because of the tactful and pensive attempt to conform his architecture to its immediate surroundings and function. 

Allen Memorial Art Museum by Robert Venturi - Sheet2
Addition by Robert Venturi_©httpslindagrashoff.comtagallen-memorial-art-museum

An Overview Of The Museum | Allen Memorial Art Museum

The Allen Memorial Art Museum is essentially a teaching museum. It is intended for the faculty members, students, and staff of Oberlin College as well as for its surrounding communities. The museum accommodates some notable works of art, such as 17th-century Flemish and Dutch art and the 19th-century and early 20th-century contemporary artforms of America and Europe. It also contains works on paper by Asians, Americans, and Europeans. AMAM, in the year 2011, went through two years retrofit. After the instalment of the new addition to the building, the museum was awarded the USGBC LEED Gold certification. USGBC promotes sustainability in construction, operation, and building design. 

Usually, at the beginning of every new semester, students can rent lithographs and paintings of famous artists such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and so on and so forth. For each semester, the students have to pay five dollars each to be able to hang these artworks and decorate the walls of their dorm room. This practice was first started by Ellen H. Johnson in the year 1940 not only to develop the aesthetic senses of the students but also to encourage them in ordered thinking and discrimination in other aspects of their lives.  

Allen Memorial Art Museum by Robert Venturi - Sheet3
Concoction of old and new building_©httpslindagrashoff.comtagallen-memorial-art-museum

The Concoction Between the Old and the New Structure

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott identified the addition to the Allen Memorial Museum as a ‘decorated shed’. The goal of the architects of the new addition was to build a bridge between the esoteric creation of Cass Gilbert and the extraversion of the warehouse for art which was required. The addition to the Allen Memorial Art Museum was perceived as a high-functioning space. It was constructed to meet the progressive needs of both the museum and the Art department. 

The Architecture of The Allen Memorial Art Museum

The structure of the building is in the form of a box with flat surfaces adorned in various materials which retreat into space with a poke in its plan. The strip windows are asymmetrical and are complimented by the low overhang of the ceiling. It creates unity with the already existing building. The two structures also form a synthesis by common grounds of using pink-coloured granite and sandstone to create the visual cue. Rather than forming a connection, the new addition to the already existing structure does not disrupt the original symmetry. Robert Venturi’s goal was to unify the physical reality of the site to create harmony with his design. 

Allen Memorial Art Museum by Robert Venturi - Sheet4
_The Interior of the Museum_©httpsen.wikipedia.orgwikiAllen

Taking up the theme from Gilbert, the red granite and sandstone checked pattern by Venturi creates a visually appealing and balanced aesthetic on the façade of the museum. The second cube made by Venturi is constructed of buff brick to create a distinction in the functionality of the spaces within. The horizontal expanse of glass windows resembled ribbon windows made famous by the famous architect Le Corbusier. The buff brick continuation of the structure and the double set of windows gives a daunting appearance to the structure in the rear of the building. A substantial-sized window of the art gallery looks forward to the walkway between the cloisters built by Gilbert and the structure made by Robert Venturi. 

Less is a Bore | Allen Memorial Art Museum

The compact overhang of the architecture is reinforced by a column that is made of a striking orange-coloured wood embellished with Ionic capital. The simple oversized column appears cliché and gives a flat yet characteristic feel. The column is undoubtedly in contrast to Gilbert’s juxtaposed cloisters. The playfulness in Robert Venturi’s designs justifies his ideology that ‘less is a bore.’ The beautiful architectural chaos introduced by this excellent architect inspires a whole new generation of architects to practice a new proposition of relationship with the classical order structure.  


GreatBuildings. 2022. Allen Art Museum Addition by Robert Venturi at GreatBuildings. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 August 2022].


Aishee Bachhar is an architecture student with a keen interest for researching and writing. The amalgamation of art with technology is something that attracts her towards architecture. She likes to upgrade her skills and polish her knowledge on a regular basis. According to her,” Through architecture one can be immortal.”