Venturi, Robert Charles

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Venturi, Robert Charles (1925– ). American Post-Modern architect. He set up his own practice with John Rauch (1930– ) in 1964, later (1967) joined by his wife, Denise Scott Brown (1931– ), and later still by Steven Izenour (1930– ). His early buildings include the Vanna Venturi House, Chestnut Hill, PA. (1961–5). In 1966 his Complexity and Contradictions in Architecture proposed (among much else) that ambiguity, tensions, and intricate complexities should replace the blandness of International Modernism (getting in a dig at Mies van der Rohe's pronouncement that ‘less is more’ by stating ‘less is a bore’), and the book made his reputation. He drew attention to the sources of meaning in architecture, insisted that architecture should deal in allusion and symbolism, and was critical of Functionalist dogma. With his wife and Izenour he wrote Learning from Las Vegas (1972, 1977) which suggested that architects should draw on what ordinary people (such as American capitalist roadside vulgarity), rather than impose pre-determined forms on the public.

Among the paradigmatic buildings of the firm, Guild House Retirement Home, Philadelphia, PA (1960–4), the Humanities Building of the State University of New York at Purchase (1968–73), the Dixwell Fire Station, New Haven, CT (1970–4), Franklin Court, Philadelphia (1972–6), the Allen Art Museum, Oberlin College, OH (1973–6), the Brant-Johnson House, Vail, CO (1975–7), the Gordon Wu Hall, Butler College, Princeton University, NJ (1980–3), and the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA (1984–91), may be mentioned. In 1986 the firm won the competition to design the Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, London (completed 1991), a building with a partial continuation of the Classical Order of Wilkins's rather dull elevation facing Trafalgar Square. Other recent works include the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, La Jolla, Calif. (1986–96). Scott Brown saw the façade as a ‘communication piece’ that was therefore ‘functional’ as a ‘study in urban communication’. Taking their cue from Las Vegas, the Venturis have noted that, especially in America, we live in the landscape of sheds and paper-thin architecture that is really a billboard advertising what is within. Thus the Sainsbury Wing is a ‘billboard done in Portland Stone’, an architecture that is about the external language for what goes on within the building. Although the Venturis have been landed with the label of Post-Modernism, they have vehemently denied they are, or ever were, associated with that movement, but drew precedents from an eclectic mix, including what might be described as commercial-vernacular themes. Claiming that, for example, High-Tech is a return to an ‘industrial vocabulary in a postindustrial age’, they see their own work as far more truly representative of their own times, at once tolerant and pluralist, without dogmatic assumptions. Other recent works include the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, La Jolla, CA (1986–96).


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