Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Venturi Scott Brown

A Brief Departure
Word came to me this week of the retirement of two of Philadelphia's most storied architects:  Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.  While they are not known for prefabricated housing as such, I would like to devote a post to their work because of one simple fact:  they were the one of the first (if not THE first) to critically examine the state of American vernacular architecture and undertake it as a scholarly pursuit.  Their own architecture has been categorized as "The Ugly and the Ordinary"....a term they themselves invented!

Learning from Las Vegas  
Their most famous publication is entitled Learning from Las Vegas, and examines what can be learned from the commercial success of Las Vegas though spatial relationships, a language or architectural symbols, and two broad categories:  the "Duck" and the "Decorated Shed".  The first section in the book is subtitled "A Significance for A&P Parking Lots" can imagine the kind of response this garnished from the academic architectural community.  My favorite section in the book, however, is entitled "Towards and Old Architecture" (a direct take-off of Le Corbusier's collection of essays entitled Towards a New Architecture...some would say a direct poke in the eye....) and makes connections between the cathedrals of old and the casinos of new.  As a theory, it's easy to embrace or reject, but it raises interesting questions.  I am first and foremost a teacher, so proposing a theory and examining it is important to me.  ....Plus I find the "Duck" kind of funny.

The Duck vs. the Decorated Shed

Learning from Levittown
Less known than Learning from Las Vegas is Venturi and Scott Brown's work on the study of suburbia--specifically (our favorite here at Instant House) Levittown.  In the book Second Suburb, a section is devoted to their work on their critical study of suburbia and Levittown.  Having grown up in a post WWII suburb full of fake columns and neo-colonial coach lights and then rejecting it (I unabashedly live in a Victorian neighborhood in Philadelphia), I often wondered what the appeal is for these types of neighborhoods.  After looking at Venturi and Scott Brown's findings, it all clicked--the SYMBOLS of these things call to mind the IDEALS of other things--see the diagram below.

If you would to read more about this, follow this link to an essay by Denise Scott Brown:  Some paradoxes of colonial cultural landscapes.  It's sensational.  Below are some examples of their famous works.  Thank you, Bob & Denise!


Guild House:  Philadelphia, PA.  One of Robert Venturi's first significant works.

Lieb House:  Long Beach Island, NJ.  Recently moved to Long Island, NY.  One of my favorites--a clearer example of "Decorated Shed" I have not found.

Mother's House:  Chestnut Hill, PA.  Designed for Robert Venturi's mother.  The over-exaggerated symbols and ornaments became a hallmark of their architectural style.

Stony Creek House:  Stony Creek, CT.  Exaggerated columns and symbols, anyone?

Trubek and Wislocki Houses, Nantucket, MA.  At some point the phrase "Ugly and Ordinary" was changed to "Everyday and Ordinary"...and here it is.  There is no ugliness in the beauty of simplicity, in my opinion....and hey, it's my blog!

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