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
Researchers: World Trade Center Ship Built In Pre-Revolutionary Philly

Researchers: World Trade Center Ship Built In Pre-Revolutionary Philly

July 31, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Manhattan sloop said to be constructed from similar timber of Independence Hall, Comcast looking for temporary solution to office space shortage, City to get better neighborhood data, minimizing the impact of methdone clinics, and the Queen Lane Apartments well on their way to demolition > more

Under World

Under World

July 31, 2014  |  Last Light

What's life like under the El in Kensington? There are a million answers, and here are a few of them courtesy of three street photographers > more

In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

In Parkside, Habitat For Humanity Takes On New Challenge: Preservation

July 30, 2014  |  News

Neighbors and volunteers confront challenges as they attempt to restore their Philadelphia historic register houses. Some preservationists argue that this kind of project, in a low income neighborhood, requires a new approach. Michael Buozis files this report from West Philadelphia > more

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

Over $200 Million In Improvements Coming To The Gallery

July 30, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Two companies announce their joint venture to revitalize the Market Street mall, two youth-athletic leagues also set to collaborate on new space, preventing inappropriate mixed-use in Bustleton, and crime down in UCity > more

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor's Guide

Fairmount Park Guard Houses: A Survivor’s Guide

July 29, 2014  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

The Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust is busy restoring the few of these uniquely Philadelphia buildings that remain. Harry K tells us why they're important and where to find them > more

Design Advocate Says New Zoning Classification Needs Revision

Design Advocate Says New Zoning Classification Needs Revision

July 29, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Ruben on the dangers of IRMX, US House votes to rename 30th Street Station, a look at the Linc’s $125 makeover, and the street melodies of yore > more