Still Learning From Venturi: An Appreciation

 

Photo: Denise Scott Brown, 1965

I was studying at Pratt Institute as the architectural movement postmodernism was coming to an end. The movement, or architectural style, is largely attributed to Robert Venturi’s approach to architecture in his 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. His concepts having been applied so poorly by lesser architects, I was happy to attend the style’s funeral.

However, the ideas Venturi, who retired this week, set forth in that text and in the 1972 treatise Learning From Las Vegas, co-authored with Denise Scott Brown, were critical game changers in architecture. Modernism, in all its abstract glory, ruled the post-war era as the elegance of its proportioned geometry and its celebration of materiality eventually gave way to banal pragmatism. Venturi sought a away to bring culture back to the equation through the lens of history and by applying the teachings of Louis Kahn and the regionalist ideals of Aalto.

In Learning from Las Vegas, Venturi taught us to evaluate and encourage the cultural conditions of a site prior to design rather than to neglect them. The garish, vernacular, electrified signage and linear, car-driven nature of the Las Vegas Strip are the emergent result of the competitive casino culture. While the designer George Nelson may have been appalled by the Strip’s visual illiteracy when viewing it in snippets, in its totality it is a spectacle. The recognition that it is a spectacle and its subsequent celebration elevates modern culture.

Moreso when the complex and the contradictory results are amplified into a larger spectacle, as exemplified by the work of Rem Koolhaas, Herzog and De Mueron, Jean Nouvel, MVRDV, BIG and other contemporary architects. Nouvel’s seminal Arab World Institute in Paris, created at the birth of postmodernism, is indebted to the theories advanced by Venturi. With its facade of motorized Arab motifs, it is a total embrace of Arab vernacular design positioned in a contemporary context. The Neues Museum in Berlin, recently renovated by David Chipperfield, carefully preserves and showcases the history of the building through the context of its war-torn finishes and years of neglected features. One also can trace Venturi’s impact from beloved American urban destinations such as Times Square, to the preservation of Wildwood, NJ, and even to our own South Street (with all of its literal and figurative fronts).

Venturi has shown us the value of context and culture and that complete urban plans often look great from above, but work poorly when enacted. His writings teach us to leave gaps in those plans, to accept accommodations from the surrounding site, and to embrace inherent meaning and variety.

A self-described Catalyst, Jason Lempieri investigates subversion, history, and collective memory in his work. He designs from the perspective that form follows meaning. He is the founder of the multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio RethinkTANK llc.



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Lunchtime Quick Hits | Philadelphia Real Estate Blog
Recent Posts
Donate Today  And  Help Us Stay The Course

Donate Today And Help Us Stay The Course

November 21, 2014  |  News

What would Philadelphia be without Hidden City Daily? That question looms as we end the 9th day of our annual campaign. Co-editor Michael Bixler has this special message to our readers > more

Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

Developer Plans For Living & Making In Bok

November 21, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Preliminary visions for a reused Bok Technical High revealed, wayfinding system in store for the Northwest, and anticipating the demise of the PGW sale > more

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

Our Elected Officials & The Cheapening Of Public Space

November 20, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Selling our visual landscape short with urban experiential displays, local government attitudes on display at the "City Hall Parking Lot", a nocturnal urban arts tour, and envisioning a high-speed line through Philly > more

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The <em>Shvitz</em>

12th Street Gym Is Great But It Used To Be The Shvitz

November 19, 2014  |  Vantage

Nothing says healthy living like a corned beef sandwich, a lit cigar, and the sauna. Ron Avery gives us an old-world tour of Camac Baths, the former Jewish bathhouse at 12th Street Gym > more

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

Blatstein Discusses Plans For Southern “Gateway To Center City”

November 19, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Broad & Washington lot discussed at community meeting, development angst in Upper Roxborough, the pragmatism of the Live! Hotel & Casino selection, and The Bourse to cater to N3rd Street > more

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

Reconsidering The Modern Urban Library

November 18, 2014  |  Morning Blend

The FLP “builds inspiration,” a rocky revitalization for West Girard, how much stimulus Pope Francis will bring to town, and regarding the legions of sweepers from yesteryear > more