Spotlight: Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

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Franklin Court, Philadelphia. Image © Mark Cohn Franklin Court, Philadelphia. Image © Mark Cohn Through their pioneering theory and provocative built work, husband and wife duo Robert Venturi (born June 25, 1925) and Denise Scott Brown (born October 3, 1931) were at the forefront of the postmodern movement, leading the charge in one of the most significant shifts in architecture of the 20th century by publishing seminal books such as Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (authored by Robert Venturi alone) and Learning from Las Vegas (co-authored by Venturi, Scott Brown and Steven Izenour).

© Frank Hanswijk © Frank Hanswijk
Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi. Image © Maria Buszek

Born in Philadelphia and Northern Rhodesia (modern day Zambia) respectively, Venturi and Scott Brown met while they were both teaching at the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. They married in 1967, and in 1969 Scott Brown joined Venturi's firm—then named Venturi and Raunch—as partner in charge of planning. The firm rebranded in 1980

Chapel at the Episcopal Academy. Image <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Espicopal_Acad_int.JPG'>via Wikimedia</a> (Image by Wikimedia user Smallbones in public domain)
Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Image © Tom Bernard
Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas in 1966. Image from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Robert Venturi
Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery London / Venturi Scott Brown. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis
Seattle Art Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/dph1110/2671587271'>Flickr user dph1110</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
include Scott Brown's name, and then again in 1989 when partner John Rauch resigned, then forming Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates.

Chapel at the Episcopal Academy. Image <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Espicopal_Acad_int.JPG'>via Wikimedia</a> (Image by Wikimedia user Smallbones in public domain) Chapel at the Episcopal Academy. Image <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Espicopal_Acad_int.JPG'>via Wikimedia</a> (Image by Wikimedia user Smallbones in public domain)
Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Image © Tom Bernard Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Image © Tom Bernard

In their theoretical writings, Venturi and Scott Brown were critical of the Modernist doctrine that at the time dominated architecture. In his 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction, Venturi argued for a more eclectic architecture which used more historic references; often referred to as his "gentle manifesto," it formed a basis for postmodernism, and was then reinforced by Learning from Las Vegas.

Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas in 1966. Image from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Robert Venturi Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas in 1966. Image from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Robert Venturi

Their architecture reflected these demands—for example, the Vanna Venturi House, which Robert Venturi designed for his mother in the early 1960s, loosely references traditional houses in both its external appearance and internal layout, with a hearth at the center of the design. In 1991, Robert Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Prize—something which has raised contention in recent years, as many believe that Denise Scott Brown deserved to share the award. In 2013, following Scott Brown's appearance at the AJ's Women in Architecture event, a petition was started demanding that the Pritzker rectify what many saw to be sexist treatment.

Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery London / Venturi Scott Brown. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery London / Venturi Scott Brown. Image © Valentino Danilo Matteis
Seattle Art Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/dph1110/2671587271'>Flickr user dph1110</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a> Seattle Art Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/dph1110/2671587271'>Flickr user dph1110</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
In 2012, Robert Venturi officially retired due to old age while Scott Brown continues to publish and present the duo's work. The firm they founded is now known as VSBA, and continues under the helm of Daniel McCoubrey. See Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's work featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage of the duo at the links below those: Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi Win 2016 AIA Gold Medal Denise Scott Brown Wins 2017 Jane Drew Prize Video: Robert Venturi Denise Scott Brown On the Past, Present and Future of VSBA's Groundbreaking Theories The AR Celebrates 50 Years of Venturi's "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" Love in Las Vegas: 99% Invisible Illuminates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's Postmodern Romance The Often Forgotten Work of Denise Scott Brown GAA Foundation and PLANE-SITE Create Video Interviews with Architects for the Venice Biennale Interview: Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown, by Andrea Tamas Pritzker Rejects Petition for Denise Scott Brown's Retroactive Award Sin City Embellishment: Expressive or Kitsch?

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