Architect Robert Venturi Leaves a Complex, Contradictory Legacy

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Architect Robert Venturi Leaves a Complex, Contradictory Legacy

Venturi's work lampooned modernism, and championed the "ordinary" kitsch of Las Vegas. 

(Credit: Todd Sheridan)

Robert Venturi, the reluctant father of post-modern architecture and author of “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” died Tuesday at the age of 93.

The Architect’s Newspaper first reported his passing with a statement from Venturi’s family. The news has since launched tributes from the likes of the New York Times and the Guardian, as well as lower-brow mediums such as Twitter. Judging by his work — and egalitarian sensibilities — Venturi would have appreciated them all.

From PlanPhilly:

In [Venturi’s] passing, Philadelphia loses a native son whose work changed the course of architecture, and left an indelible imprint on his hometown – from the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel to residential architecture in Chestnut Hill and public spaces in Old City. His buildings and ideas live on, however, continuing to seriously challenge us with architecture that doesn’t take itself so seriously.

Beyond Philadelphia, the legacy of Venturi and his partner and wife Denise Scott Brown has been called a “radical punch” to architecture’s “solar plexus.” Writing for De Zeen, architect Charles Holland recently praised the duo’s book “Learning from Las Vegas” as a challenge for others in his profession to “take popular culture, popular taste and ordinary architecture seriously.”

“It was also a highly divisive book that many saw as uncritical and overly accommodating to the more extreme forms of capitalism,” Holland wrote. “It set the tone for Venturi’s status as a highly respected and hugely influential architect who was also a professional irritant and, somehow, an outsider. Given his love of difficult reconciliations and perverse contradictions, this status was entirely appropriate.”

From the Guardian:

Venturi is often referred to as the father of postmodernism, but he was so much more than that. As the historian Robert Miller wrote, it is “a charge comparable to calling Thomas Edison the father of disco”. Like Edison, Venturi shone a bright light into the often gloomy world of architectural discourse, illuminating a colourful spectrum of possibility, embracing the messy vitality of the “ugly ordinary”, and expanding the very idea of what architecture could be.

Scott Brown, whose legacy is less well-known due to the kind of industry sexism that Next City has covered at length, was often the force behind that love for the ordinary, both in the duo’s architecture and their broader urban and social mission.

From De Zeen:

Scott Brown’s input and influence on the practice has been immense. Ingrained industry sexism has undoubtedly downplayed her part, most evident in her exclusion from the Pritzker Prize, which was awarded to Venturi alone in 1991. But it was Scott Brown who introduced Las Vegas to the mix, and who brought an engagement with popular culture, sociology and urbanism. Her pioneering interest in advocacy planning and community engagement also gave a political and social dimension to the work.

Writers and architects have sent out tributes on social media.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: philadelphiaarchitecture

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