The firm's influence was first felt through the writings of Robert Venturi and Scott Brown, beginning with Venturis Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture widely regarded as the seminal document of the postmodern movement. Published in 1966, it is still in print and has been translated and published in nine languages.
Perhaps the most influential aspect of the book was its exuberant embrace of historical example as a source for contemporary inspiration. Modernism had eschewed historical reference, asserting that the past was irrelevant to modern architectural concerns. Robert Venturi, however, found rich lessons in the full range of the world's architecture, and illustrated Robert Venturi's theories using examples from many periods and styles. This acknowledgment of the continuity of architectural experience helped bring about the rapprochement with the past that has been a major characteristic of architecture in the 1980s.
In 1972, Robert Venturi, Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour published Learning from Las Vegas, in which they took the controversial approach of studying a form of building generally held in contempt, the commercial architecture of the highway "strip," as epitomized by Las Vegas. They believed that such vernacular architecture often demonstrated creative solutions to difficult problems and that "high-design" architects could learn important lessons from them.
Specifically, the book analyzed the use of symbolism on the strip as a basis for understanding symbolism as a significant element of architecture. On the strip, the largescale, attention-grabbing signs became the most important design elements, adorning buildings that were little more than utilitarian sheds. The authors contrasted this "decorated shed" with the "heroic and original "structures of late modernism, which, to compensate for their ideology-imposed lack of ornament, were distorted in program and structure to become ornaments themselves. The authors concluded that the decorated shed, as a legitimate and relatively inexpensive response to modern conditions, had more relevance to the present world than the costly contortions of the modernist monuments.
architectural standards books
building types & styles books
drawing & modelling books
historic preservation books
interior design books
project planning & management books
study & teaching books
urban & land use planning books Architecture for the last quarter of our century should be socially less coercive and aesthetically more vital than the striving and bombastic buildings of our recent past. We architects can learn this from Rome and Las Vegas and from looking around us wherever we happen to be.
Both Complexity and Contradiction and Learning from Las Vegas caused considerable controversy because of thoir challenge to the status quo, but they were embraced by a rising generation of architects who shared the dissatisfaction with the restrictions of orthodox modernism and were searching for valid alternatives. The books have remained in print and are still widely read in the United States and abroad. Robert Venturi and Scott Brown have continued to develop and evaluate their theories in essays and addresses, and a number of these were collected in 1984 in A View from the Campidoglio.
As important as these theoretical investigations have been, however, the partners have always been first and foremost practicing architects and planners, and it is in the firm's work that their theories find realization and validation. The early work of the firm was as controversial as the writing, because it embodied the challenges expressed in the theory. The Vanna Venturi House, for example, which Robert Venturi designed for his mother in the early 1960s, broke many of the rules that modern architects were expected to follow: the facade contained applied ornament and historical allusion, especially in its broken pediment and traditional, multipaned windows; the symmetry of the plan was distorted to acknowledge and accommodate the functions of the various parts; and the house was painted an unorthodox green. In turn reviled and revered, it has become an icon of the postmodern movement.
The Guild House, an apartment building for the elderly built in 1965. offended because it did not try to be heroic, but rather was "ugly and ordinary". It attempted to relate to the modest brick commercial and residential buildings around it. The tenants of the building were to be drawn from the surrounding neighborhood and the architects felt it was appropriate that the building reflect that neighborhood, rather than try to make an original architectural statement. This was achieved through the use of familiar (though subtly altered) elements such as red brick and double-hung windows. This concern for a building's context, unusual at the time but commonplace today, has been a hallmark of the firm's work from the beginning.
In urban planning, too, VRSB has made important contributions that have helped change conventional wisdom. In 1968, the firm, under the direction of Scott Brown, was retained to assist the Crosstown Community, a racially mixed area at the southern edge of Philadelphia's city center, in proposing alternatives to a planned expressway that threatened to obliterate the neighborhood. The resulting plan was developed in consultation with the residents themselves and was based on their needs and aspirations. It called for the enhancement, in practical, incremental steps, of what was already present in the community, rather than destroying the old and (maybe) replacing it with something "better," the prevailing planning philosophy of the time.
The plan tried to show that beauty could emerge from the existing fabric and that a not-too-apparent order should be sought from within instead of an easy one imposed from above. That piecemeal development need not spell disunity.
This philosophy is accepted wisdom today, and has informed the firm's subsequent planning efforts in such diverse communities as Miami Beach, Minneapolis, Memphis, and Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.
Although the firm has been closely identified in the public mind with postmodernism, the partners have, in fact, strived to stay clear of stylistic labels, and the firm's work shows a greater diversity than such designation might lead one to expect. This arises from a commitment to approach each project with an open mind, rejecting preconceptions and working to understand the traditions and needs of clients and users before arriving at design alternatives. Such an open process can lead to creative solutions that are at once appropriate and unexpected. At Philadelphia's Franklin Court, for example, the National Park Service wished to create a monument to Benjamin Franklin on the site of his long-demolished home. Research could not turn up enough evidence to allow an accurate reconstruction of the house, so the firm designed a series of ghost structures in steel that suggest the outlines of the house and its outbuildings. Although certainly an unconventional approach, the result is far more honest—and even profound—than a conjectural reconstruction could ever have been.
Over the years, the firm has maintained a strong practice, completing more than 400 designs and projects in cities and campuses throughout the United States and in Italy and Iraq. Current projects include major museums in Seattle, Wash., Austin, Texas, and La Jolla, Calif.; an extension, the Sainsbury Wing, to the National Gallery in London; a new concert hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra; and projects for Princeton, Harvard, the University of Pensylvania, UCLA, and Dartmouth. The firm's work has received extensive over 70 major design awards, including, in 1985, the American Institute of Architects Architectural Firm Award, for having "so profoundly influenced the direction of modern architecture".
1. Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 17.
2. Ref. 1, p. 16.
3. Robert Venturi, D. Scott Brown, and S. Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, MIT Press, Boston, Mass., p. xvii.
4. Ref. 3, p. 90.
5. D. Scott Brown, "An Alternate Proposal That Builds on the Character and Population of South Street," Architectural Forum, 135(3) 44 (Oct. 1971).
6. "Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown Wins the 1985 AIA FirmAward," press release, American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, 1985.
1. R. Venturi and D. Scott Brown, A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays 1953-1984, Harper & Row, New York, 1984.
2. S. von Moos, Robert Venturi, John Rauch and Scott Brown: Buildings and Projects, Rizzoli, New York, 1987.
Robert Venturi: Learning from Las Vegas - Revised Edition: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form
Robert Venturi: A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays, 1953-1984 (Icon Editions)
Robert Venturi: Complexity and contradiction in architecture: With a introd. by Vincent Scully (Museum of Modern Art papers on architecture, 1)
Conversations With Architects: Philip Johnson, Kevin Roche, Paul Rudolph, Bertrand Goldberg, Morris Lapidus, Louis Kahn, Charles Moore, Robert venturi
Robert Venturi: Complejidad y Contradiccion En La Arquitectura
Robert Venturi: Mother's House
Robert Venturi: Two Responses to Some Immediate Issues
The Architecture of Robert Venturi
Robert Venturi: Aprendiendo de Las Vegas
The Architecture of Robert Venturi
Robert Venturi: L'enseignement de Las Vegas, ou, Le symbolisme oublié de la forme architecturale
Robert Venturi: Aprendendo com Las Vegas
Robert Venturi: Aprendiendo De Todas Las Cosas
Robert Charles Venturi, a bibliography (Architecture series : Bibliography)
Robert Venturi: Studio LLV: Learning from Las Vegas, or Form analysis as design research : third year studio
Robert Venturi: Ornament, Scale and Ambiguity
Robert Venturi: The Pritzker Architecture Prize 1991: Presented to Robert Venturi
Robert Venturi: Complexidade e Contradiçao em Arquitetura
Venturi, Scott Brown e associati (Serie di architettura)
Robert Venturi's architecture in review, 1967-1987 (Architecture series--bibliography)
Robert Venturi: Seattle Art Museum: Downtown : a building