born June 25th, 1925
died September 18th, 2018
Robert Charles Venturi Jr. (born June 25, 1925) is an American architect, founding principal of the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, and one of the major architectural figures in the twentieth century. Together with his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown, he helped to shape the way that architects, planners and students experience and think about architecture and the American built environment. Their buildings, planning, theoretical writings, and teaching have also contributed to the expansion of discourse about architecture.
Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Prize in Architecture in 1991; the prize was awarded to him alone, despite a request to include his equal partner Denise Scott Brown. A group of women architects attempted to get her name added retroactively to the prize, but the Pritzker Prize jury declined to do so. Venturi is also known for coining the maxim “Less is a bore”, a postmodern antidote to Mies van der Rohe’s famous modernist dictum “Less is more”. Venturi lives in Philadelphia with Denise Scott Brown. He is the father of James Venturi, founder and principal of ReThink Studio.
Early life and education
Venturi was born in Philadelphia to Robert Venturi Sr. and Vanna (née Luizi) Venturi and was raised as a Quaker. Venturi attended school at the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1947 where he was a member-elect of Phi Beta Kappa and won the D’Amato Prize in Architecture. He received his M.F.A. from Princeton in 1950. The educational program at Princeton under Professor Jean Labatut, who offered provocative design studios within a Beaux-Arts pedagogical framework, was a key factor in Venturi’s development of an approach to architectural theory and design that drew from architectural history and commercial architecture in analytical, as opposed to stylistic, terms. In 1951 he briefly worked under Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and later for Louis Kahn in Philadelphia. He was awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in 1954, where he studied and toured Europe for two years.
From 1954 to 1965, Venturi held teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as Kahn’s teaching assistant, an instructor, and later, as associate professor. It was there, in 1960, that he met fellow faculty member, architect and planner Denise Scott Brown. Venturi taught later at the Yale School of Architecture and was a visiting lecturer with Scott Brown in 2003 at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
A controversial critic of the blithely functionalist and symbolically vacuous architecture of corporate modernism during the 1950s, Venturi has been considered a counterrevolutionary. He published his “gentle manifesto”, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” in 1966, described in the introduction by Vincent Scully as “probably the most important writing on the making of architecture since Le Corbusier’s ‘Vers Une Architecture’, of 1923.” Derived from course lectures at the University of Pennsylvania, Venturi received a grant from the Graham Foundation in 1965 to aid in its completion. The book demonstrated, through countless examples, an approach to understanding architectural composition and complexity, and the resulting richness and interest. Drawing from both vernacular and high-style sources, Venturi introduced new lessons from the buildings of architects both familiar (Michelangelo, Alvar Aalto) and then forgotten (Frank Furness, Edwin Lutyens). He made a case for “the difficult whole” rather than the diagrammatic forms popular at the time, and included examples — both built and unrealized — of his own work to demonstrate the possible application of the techniques illustrated within. The book has been translated and published in 18 languages.
Immediately hailed as a theorist and designer with radical ideas, Venturi went to teach a series of studios at the Yale School of Architecture in the mid-1960s. The most famous of these was a studio in 1968 in which Venturi and Scott Brown, together with Steven Izenour, led a team of students to document and analyze the Las Vegas Strip, perhaps the least likely subject for a serious research project imaginable. In 1972, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour published the folio, A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas later revised in 1977 as Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form using the student work as a foil for new theory. This second manifesto was an even more stinging rebuke to orthodox modernism and elite architectural tastes. The book coined the terms “Duck” and “Decorated Shed” — descriptions of the two predominant ways of embodying iconography in buildings. The work of Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown adopted the latter strategy, producing formally simple “decorated sheds” with rich, complex and often shocking ornamental flourishes. Though he and his wife co-authored several additional books at the end of the century, these two have proved most influential.
The Guild House, completed 1964, on Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia
The architecture of Robert Venturi, although perhaps not as familiar today as his books, helped redirect American architecture away from a widely practiced, often banal, modernism in the 1960s to a more exploratory design approach that openly drew lessons from architectural history and responded to the everyday context of the American city. Venturi’s buildings typically juxtapose architectural systems, elements and aims, to acknowledge the conflicts often inherent in a project or site. This “inclusive” approach contrasted with the typical modernist effort to resolve and unify all factors in a complete and rigidly structured—and possibly less functional and more simplistic—work of art. The diverse range of buildings of Venturi’s early career offered surprising alternatives to then current architectural practice, with “impure” forms (such as the North Penn Visiting Nurses Headquarters), apparently casual asymmetries (as at the Vanna Venturi House), and pop-style supergraphics and geometries (for instance, the Lieb House).
Chapel at the Episcopal Academy, Newtown Square, PA. (2010)
Venturi created the firm Venturi and Short with William Short in 1960. After John Rauch replaced Short as partner in 1964, the firm’s name changed to Venturi and Rauch. Venturi married Denise Scott Brown on July 23, 1967 in Santa Monica, California, and in 1969, Scott Brown joined the firm as partner in charge of planning. In 1980, The firm’s name became Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown, and after Rauch’s resignation in 1989, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. The firm, based in Manayunk, Philadelphia, was awarded the Architecture Firm Award by the American Institute of Architects in 1985. Recent work has included many commissions from academic institutions, including campus planning and university buildings, and civic buildings in London, Toulouse and Japan.
Venturi’s architecture has had world-wide influence, beginning in the late 1960s with the dissemination of the broken-gable roof of the Vanna Venturi House and the segmentally arched window and interrupted string courses of Guild House. The playful variations on vernacular house types seen in the Trubeck and Wislocki Houses offered a new way to embrace, but transform, familiar forms. The facade patterning of the Oberlin Art Museum and the laboratory buildings demonstrated a treatment of the vertical surfaces of buildings that is both decorative and abstract, drawing from vernacular and historic architecture while still being modern. Venturi’s work arguably provided a key influence at important times in the careers of architects Robert A. M. Stern, Rem Koolhaas, Philip Johnson, Michael Graves, Graham Gund and James Stirling, among others.
Venturi is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, the American Institute of Architects, The American Academy of Arts and Letters and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Venutri’s notable students include Amy Weinstein.
Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with inlay depicting parts of Peter Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the city
Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, London
Inside the Seattle Art Museum
Wu Hall (left), designed by Robert Venturi, at Princeton University
Trabant Student Center, University of Delaware
Vanna Venturi House; Philadelphia (1964) won the AIA Twenty-five Year Award and was recognized as a “Masterwork of Modern American Architecture” by the United States Postal Service in May 2005.
Guild House; Philadelphia (1964)
The Lieb House located in Barnegat Light, New Jersey was designed by Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown and built in 1967. It is best known for the huge number 9 on its front, and the sailboat-shaped window on one side. A Long Island, New York couple purchased this home in early March 2009 for just $1 to save it from demolition, paying at least $100,000 to move it on a barge to Glen Cove, Long Island.
Fire Station #4; Columbus, Indiana (1968)
Trubek and Wislocki Houses; Nantucket, Massachusetts (1971)
Brant House; Greenwich, Connecticut (1972)
Dixwell Fire Station, New Haven, CT (1974)
Allen Memorial Art Museum modern addition, Oberlin College; Oberlin, Ohio (1976)
BASCO Showroom; Philadelphia (1976)
Franklin Court; Philadelphia (1976)
Best Products Catalog Showroom; Langhorne, Pennsylvania (1978)
Western Plaza, later renamed to Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C. (1980)
Coxe-Hayden House and Studio; Block Island, Rhode Island (1981)
Gordon Wu Hall; Princeton University, New Jersey (1983)
House in New Castle, Delaware (1983)
Lewis Thomas Laboratory, Princeton University, New Jersey (1986)
House in East Hampton, Long Island, New York (1990)
Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Medical Research Laboratories, UCLA; Los Angeles, California (1991)
Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, London; United Kingdom (1991)
Seattle Art Museum; Seattle, Washington (1991)
Restoration of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia (1991)
Children’s Museum; Houston, Texas (1992)
Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library, Bard College; Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (1994)
University of Delaware, Trabant Student Center (1996)
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; California (1996)
Mielparque Nikko Kirifuri Resort; Nikko National Park, Japan (1997)
Gonda (Goldschmied) Neurosciences and Genetics Research Center, UCLA; Los Angeles, California (1998)
Provincial Capitol Building; Toulouse, France (1999)
Frist Campus Center, Princeton University; New Jersey (2000)
Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College; Hanover, New Hampshire (2000)
Perelman Quadrangle, University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia (2000)
Baker Memorial Library, Dartmouth College; Hanover, New Hampshire (2002)
Dumbarton Oaks Library, Harvard University; Washington, D.C. (2005)
Undergraduate Science Building, Life Sciences Institute and Palmer Commons complex, University of Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan (2005)
Biomedical Biological Science Research Building (BBSRB), University of Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky (2005)
Congregation Beth El Synagogue – Sunbury, PA. (2007)
Episcopal Academy Chapel; Newtown Square, Pennsylvania (2008)
Benjamin Franklin House Outline.jpg
2016 AIA Gold Medal: Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA and Robert Venturi, FAIA on YouTube, 3:50
Robert Venturi: Architecture’s Improper Hero Part 1 on YouTube, 14:45,
Part 2 on YouTube, 7:19, John Thornton
Architecture as flexibility; form follows functions, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, 7:34, 1st of 10 parts on the architects discussing their careers, Web of Stories.
Rome Prize Fellow, American Academy in Rome; 1954-1956
AIA Medal for Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture; 1978
Fellow in the American Institute of Architects, 1978
AIA Architecture Firm Award, to Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown; 1985
Commendatore of the Order of Merit, Republic of Italy; 1986
AIA Twenty-five Year Award to the Vanna Venturi House; 1989
Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters; 1990
The Pritzker Architecture Prize; 1991
National Medal of Arts, United States Presidential Award; 1992 (with Denise Scott Brown)
Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, Republique Française, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication; 2000
Vincent Scully Prize, National Building Museum; 2002 (with Denise Scott Brown)
Design Mind Award, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards; 2007 (with Denise Scott Brown)
AIA Gold Medal (with Denise Scott Brown) 2016
Robert Venturi (1966). Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: The Museum of Modern Art Press. ISBN 0-87070-281-5.
Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour (1972). Learning from Las Vegas. Revised 1977. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-72006-X.
Robert Venturi (1998). Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: A View from the Drafting Room. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-72029-9.
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (2004). Architecture as Signs and Systems: for a Mannerist Time. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01571-1.
Pogrebin, Robin (14 June 2013). “No Pritzker Prize for Denise Scott Brown”. The New York Times.
Catriona Davies (29 May 2013). “Denise Scott Brown: Architecture favors ‘lone male genius’ over women”. CNN.
Goldberger, Paul (14 April 1991). “ARCHITECTURE VIEW; Robert Venturi, Gentle Subverter of Modernism”. The New York Times.
The Nassau Herald 1947, Princeton University yearbook
Thomas, George E. (2000). William L. Price, Arts and Crafts to Modern Design. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 362. ISBN 1-56898-220-8. in Introduction by Robert Venturi
Otero-Pailos, Jorge (2010). Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 25–99. ISBN 9780816666041.
Robert Venturi 1991 Laureate Pritzker Architecture Prize
Mark Alan Hewitt (28 November 2011). “Venturi, Robert”. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online.
“Interview: Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown”. Archdaily.com. April 25, 2011.
Mencimer, Stephanie (25 October 1996). “Building Blocks Architect Amy Weinstein Is Redesigning Capitol Hill One Block at a Time”. Washington City Paper. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
La Gorge, Tammy (2009-03-13). “To Save a Venturi House, It Is Moved”. New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
“Congregation Beth El Website”. Retrieved 2012-04-30.
“Robert Venturi: Architecture’s Improper Hero Parts 1&2”. YouTube. July 12, 2011. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
“Architecture as flexibility; form follows functions”. Web of Stories. May 27, 2010. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
Directory 1951 to 1960 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome
“Twenty-five Year Award Recipients”. The American Institute of Architects.
“List of Medalists”. National Medal of Arts. Archived from the original on 2008-09-25.
“Vincent Scully Prize”. National Building Museum. Archived from the original on 2009-02-14.
“Design Mind Award”. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-09-19.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Venturi.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Robert Venturi
Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. firm web site
Online profile of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc.
Stories of Houses: The Vanna Venturi House in Philadelphia, by Robert Venturi
Design Strategies of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
Robert Venturi on Charlie Rose
Robert Venturi on IMDb
Works by or about Robert Venturi in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
Robert Venturi interview