From the Outside In and the Inside Out

The work of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown has shaped almost every aspect of contemporary design, from architecture and city planning to furniture and jewelry. In writings such as Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas, they have taught us how to discuss the culture of our times. Venturi and Scott Brown have played dual roles as artists and cultural analysts, and their separate contributions to their multidimensional practice are closely intertwined.

Born an ocean apart, in Philadelphia and Zambia, Africa, respectively, Venturi and Scott Brown came to their partnership with remarkably similar ideals. They met in 1960, drawn together in part by a shared skepticism about the elite and in-grown character of the prevailing modernist architecture. Arising after World War I, architectural modernism rejected ornament and the use of historical models, adopting instead the simple forms and man-made materials of industry and the abstract language of modern painting.
By the 1960s, modernist architecture had become increasingly lifeless and routine, and it began to come under fire. Venturi and Scott Brown were among its most vocal critics. As Venturi explained in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, they rejected the "less is more" credo of modernism and chose "messy vitality over obvious unity." They drew inspiration from the riches of history, including nineteenth-century shingle style, Art Deco, the mannerism of the late Renaissance master Andrea Palladio, and even the early modernist work of Le Corbusier. Venturi and Scott Brown also brought the architecture of everyday life into their projects, including elements of popular culture. While respecting the abstraction of modernism, they invested their own works with a rich vocabulary of symbols and associations. Working "from the outside in as well as the inside out," they reconnected architecture with its context and human purpose.

By enlarging the repertoire of acceptable forms, emphasizing the communicative function of architecture, and revaluing the role of the viewer, Venturi and Scott Brown have been among the leaders of the broad cultural transformation called postmodernism. However, their work stands apart from the pretty but often self-indulgent and self-styled postmodern architecture that arose in the 1980s, for it has been disciplined by the rigors of comprehensive planning, fortified but not seduced by the study of the past, and determinedly respectful of real people. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown have done more than create the style of a decade; they have made contemporary architecture "out of the ordinary" at once familiar and special.

Houses and Housing - Symbols of Home
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's fascination with signs and symbols, and their commitment to the social role of architects have been consistently reflected in their residential designs. Symbols of the home--welcoming door, sheltering roof, and warming hearth--appear often. These domestic buildings are also remarkably attuned to the singular needs of clients. They offer comfortable familiarity to the elderly, focus for the distracted modern family, accommodation for the essential automobile, as well as special provisions for musicians, work-at-home writers, art collectors, sailors, skiers, and ambitious cooks.
Commercial - Main Street Is Almost All Right
The architecture of American main streets, the retail districts of Japanese towns, and the suburban shopping strip have inspired Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's wide-ranging commercial designs. Enthusiasm for popular culture and the links between their work and pop art are especially apparent here, reflected in their use of large, bright-colored lettering; ordinary industrial hardware and fittings; and exuberant signage. Decoration-shunned by early architectural modernists-is also prominent. Sometimes serving as symbolic or explicit advertisement, this decoration always incorporates the two-dimensional pattern and color that are hallmarks of Venturi and Scott Brown's style.
Universities - Learning from Everything
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown--both avid students and brilliant teachers--have executed more than a dozen commissions for colleges and universities, from large-scale campus planning studies to restorations of historic landmarks and new building designs. Their collegiate buildings are often based on the generic loft, which they interpret variously as library, research laboratory, and student union. Without resorting to imitation, these university designs thoughtfully evoke the style of their campus environment-whether it be Victorian Gothic at Harvard, 1920s Romanesque Revival at UCLA, or neo-Tudor at Princeton.
Civic - Public Spaces Made Living Places
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown have created eloquent designs for civic buildings of almost every size and kind, among them a capitol building for a French province, a concert hall for Philadelphia, and fire stations for American towns. They have discovered how to meet the complicated architectural needs of late-twentieth-century public service while making buildings "speak" intelligibly to a contemporary audience. The language of these buildings borrows from commercial architecture and the rich variety of architectural history, and its dialect is unfailingly attuned to each locale and its culture.
Museums - Architecture for Art's Sake
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown have specialized in designing museums that fulfill visitors' needs and delight their sensibilities. They have shown unfaltering concern for the display of artworks, whose individuality is highlighted by placement in distinctive, frequently skylit, rooms. Visiting these buildings is an adventure in itself, beginning in a lobby that brings inside some of the energy and character of the urban setting and often creates an interior "street." Galleries and other public spaces, arranged along an ordered axis, are unexpectedly juxtaposed with rooms of varied shapes and architectural treatment.

Decorative Arts - Wit, Variety, and Industrial Process
From about 1978 to 1993, during the commercial peak of architect-designed boutique products in the United States and abroad, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates designed furniture, decorative arts, and textiles for manufacture. Most of the firm's product design work was done for three principal clients: Knoll, Alessi, and Swid Powell. Like the firm's architecture, these designs are indebted to historical precedent and yet deeply modern, as they abstract, simplify, and even cartoon their sources.