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Postmodernism trailblazer Robert Venturi dies at age 93

The late architect retired from his firm in 2016

Architect Robert Venturi poses in his office in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, with a model of a new hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra in background, in April of 1991.
Architect Robert Venturi poses in his office in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, with a model of a new hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra in background, in April of 1991.
AP

Noted American architect Robert Venturi has died at age 93. According to a statement provided by Venturi’s family to The Architect’s Newspaper yesterday, he passed away peacefully at his home following a short illness.

Venturi, along with his wife, architect Denise Scott Brown, was known for kickstarting postmodernism in architecture. Where famous modernist Mies van der Rohe stated “Less is more,” Venturi coined “Less is a bore.” Naturally, his works embraced curves, color, angles, and general whimsy.

A prime example is the iconic Vanna Venturi House, which Venturi designed for his mother in the early 1960s. The house received the esteemed 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1989 and was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2016.

Vanna Venturi House
The Vanna Venturi House.
Matt Wargo/Courtesy of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc.

In a visit to the house shortly after it received historic designation, Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange elaborates on the exterior’s nuanced shapes and color:

...the exterior is an unusual coppery gray-green, which underlines the flatness of the great, two-part gable and the chimney behind. It looks like a cardboard cutout, but not necessarily a playful one, for all the references to children’s drawings of houses. A child wouldn’t color a house this green, because it is not in the standard set of markers. In the basement, there are cans of paint stacked on the shelf, labeled by location.

...The house, which was designed and redesigned, is itself a gentle manifesto, the gable a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of the modernist flat roof; the square windows a blow against the aesthetic tyranny of transparent walls. He’s taken the poor little shivering glass houses and given them back their blanket.

Venturi’s big ideas live on in influential books, notably Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), billed as a “gentle manifesto for a nonstraightforward architecture,” and Learning from Las Vegas (1972), a thorough exploration of the symbolic significance of Strip architecture, written with Scott Brown and Steven Izenour.

The late architect, who collected architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 1991, retired from Venturi Scott Brown and Associates, the firm he founded with Scott Brown, in 2016. The Philadelphia-based practice has been known as VSBA Architects & Planners since 2012.

Venturi and Scott Brown were recently in the news for their work on the San Diego Contemporary Art Museum, which is getting a modern renovation that would eliminate the Venturi Scott Brown-designed colonnade courtyard anchoring the museum’s current entrance sequence. Scores of architects signed a petition to preserve the distinctive postmodern facade elements, while Scott Brown issued a statement emphasizing the “delicate connections” to street activity that were considered in their design.

Do check out our roundup of Venturi’s most important works.