About Robert Venturi

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One of the architects and theoreticians responsible for influencing a generation of architects and bringing architecture to the present day is Robert Venturi. Despite having nothing in the way of a signature style, he accomplished great things with his ideas, which provided the conceptual framework for many creations by several architects. Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown contributed significantly to the architectural designs that have influenced the field of architecture to this day. This paper analyzes why it’s reasonable to consider Robert Venturi as revolutionary architectural practice who to date stands out as one of the great architects who helped develop the Postmodern architectural style. Postmodernism is a key international trend in both art and academia with lasting significant impacts on architecture.

This paper is divided into three main sections, that is, the introduction, the main discussion and the conclusion. The second section just after the introduction consists of six parts. The first part defines the term revolutionary; the second part analyzes the architectural climate when Venturi started his practice. The third part looks at the orthodoxies that he rebelled against while the fourth part the achievements of Robert Venturi as a chief challenger of the Modernist principles. The fifth part looks at how their approach to architecture anticipated or chimed with the societal movements. This section ends with the Robert Venturi’s legacy. The finally paper winds up with the third section which draws some conclusions from the discussions of this paper.

What is a Revolutionary?

The first step to discussing Robert Venturi as a revolutionary is to define the word “revolutionary.” Revolutionary means “of pertaining to, characterized by, or of the nature of a revolution, or a sudden, complete, or marked by change.” The dictionary provides a second definition as “radically new or innovative; outside or beyond established procedure, principles etc.” or “one who participates in an act that leads to the two definitions above.” Therefore, when we think of Robert Venturi, we should think of him as one who advocated for or engaged in a revolution. In the architectural realm, Robert Venturi is one of the architects considered to be revolutionary. The questions that call for answers here include, what was Robert Venturi engaged in fighting and why was he fighting it or even better against it? Venturi perceived the Modern architectural style as a failure since it had failed to satisfy the needs, the wants and even the desires of the American society then. Therefore, as an architect, he took the bold steps to solve the issue. He authored books that talked about architecture and designs, but most importantly, he came up with designs that sought to address the issue that Modernism had failed to address.

In 1966, Venturi published an influential book titled Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture which from a closer look seems like was a head-on attack on the entire Modernism of the twentieth century. In this particular book, he tries to explain his argument against Modernism rather than bashing modern architecture as it appears. According to Venturi there was something much better that architecture could offer instead of the boring lines of Modernism. Further, in 1977 he made efforts to untangle what he saw as flaws in architectural thinking by coauthoring a book Learning from Las Vegas. The book is a study of the Las Vegas Strip and it went a long way in helping him learn the existing landscape .

Among the many things that Venturi came up, one notable one is the “less is a bore” which is impudent to Mies van der Rohe’s famous saying “less is more.” It was well received by the advocates of the new niceness that Venturi was pushing for although they later mostly disagreed with Venturi’s writings. Every work that Venturi did seemed to have a new surprise and the more he worked, the more the discrepancy grew. Even though every building was different since each was adapted to its surrounding, they all were remarkably a “real Venturi.”

His notion appalled the architectural community at the time with many labeling him a rebel. He faced the challenge of convincing other architects and the general public of his mega vision for the future since he lacked the experience to support his ideas. However, unlike what one would expect, Venturi wrote his books to understand architecture better and not convince people of anything. Among the many discoveries that Venturi made include one that successful architecture used symbolism that was native to a particular area. He was the first to take stance giving impetus to vernacular styles which seemed to be just natural in retrospect.

Venturi’s building designs were looked ordinary rather than those of the Modern building styles that looked revolutionary. The modern style was marked with too much simplicity. However, for Venturi, in his approach that seemed unfamiliar spoke one on one with the local population while coming up houses in the traditional vernacular. His approach to architecture by embracing ordinariness and commonality shows that he had taken his own revolutionary path. His style of architecture was different and what he did with it was different from what people are used to almost throughout the century. Not even the architectural community at the time were used to Venturi’s kind of style and therefore they took quite a long time to digest it. Venturi held all things that made good architecture so dear to him. Even though he incorporated history into his designs, he still managed to have simple ornamentation that were relevant to his designs. In his architectural style, he stressed on the symbolic representation of history rather than the literal representation of it.

Architectural Climate When Venturi Started his Practice

By late 1950s Modern architect Philip Johnson had already hinted at the inevitable shift to Postmodernism by declaring that one cannot know history. Though his declaration did not go down well with many of the orthodox Modernists, he came to recognize that history binds people together and that Modernism did not offer the outlet to express this historical relevance. While many architects failed to recognize Philip Johnson’s declaration, Venturi understood these desires so well and later integrated the same convictions into his own Postmodern architecture style. Venturi would then become of the most notable architects who helped develop the Postmodern architectural style that marked the shift from the Modern architectural style that had dominated before its development.

Rebert Venturi became a prominent figure alongside Meier in Columbus with regards to shaping the formal directions in the 1970s. It is during the same period that Venturi and Miere enjoyed growing reputations apart from running high profile practices. By 1970’s Venturi and his partner and wife, Denise Scott Brown, an architect cum planner had nearly twenty years of teaching experience. Going into 1970, Robert Venturi was hated so much by other architects since Vanna Venturi was her mother, who would later shape Venturi’s work. He worked hard and paid attention to the details saw him make achievements in his architectural practice.

Orthodoxies Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown Rebelled Against

In his book Learning from Las Vegas, Venturi states that “many architects find the vernacular of the middle class of America to be repugnant, distasteful, and unappealing that they have a difficult time in examining it open-mindedly to discover its true functionality.” Robert Venturi wanted for a shift from Modernism which he termed as the desire for a sophisticated architecture with its attendant contradictions. The desire, according to Venturi was a reaction to Modernism and the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s. Venturi realized that a lot of people wanted the use of symbolism that they could understand well in their buildings.

Venturi believed that the middle-class Americans did not like the dwellings that depicted the statements of orthodox Modernism. He thought of his buildings as more successful than the massive Modernist buildings since people could associate to them in a much more personal way. However, he admitted that his buildings were never seen as monuments as they should have, but still they were much better than the Modernist ones. From his book Complexity and Contradiction, it’s clear he wasn’t advocating for any historical style, but rather he was advocating for non-orthodox Modern architecture. He was not a rebel but instead just wanted an architectural style that would address the needs of the people. To do that, he had to come up with designs that were different from what the Modern architectural style offered since it had failed.

Venturi realized that the American public had a break in the adoption of Modern architecture at the time. He thought Modernism was not only stale but rigid too and that his style which involved history and tradition was the best way that could fill this gap as a way out. With many architects at the time making efforts to make a name for themselves, Venturi’s aim was not to make a name or even a signature for himself. Venturi proceeded to invest a lot of efforts in making the difference and variety that he stood for more acceptable. He saw the simple facades as boring since they did not engage enough making him use some specific aspects within the walls of structures that he designed.

Venturi’s Success in Challenging the Modernist Principles and Legacy

Robert Venturi, together with his wife Denise Scott Brown were successful in changing the way people view the world today. One of the leading design by Robert Venturi is the Allen Memorial Art Museum at the Oberlin College in Ohio where he was commissioned to design its addition. Earlier, he had worked on the Sainsbury addition. In both designs, Venturi and his team were able to achieve the desired goal where the additions that they designed conformed to a range of the structures’ interior uses without stealing the original significance of the buildings. In 1977 when the addition to the art museum was opened to the public, it was seen as one of the finest examples of postmodern architecture in the U.S. His additions which featured the inventive use of both symbolism and ornamentation perfectly complimented the pre-existing Tuscan style building to which the addition was made. Apart from the big buildings, during the 1970s, Venturi came up with some smaller buildings. The smaller buildings, though impressive, they are not known by most Americans. It’s amazing it's those little buildings that Venturi was very proud of that have failed to gain recognition. What Venturi desired was to come up with a house that resembled a house, just like a fire station that looks like a fire station.

Venturi owns the post-modern era, even though the most postmodern architecture does not belong to him. In recognition of both Venturi and Scott Brown’s outstanding contribution and impact on architecture, in the year 1991, he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize. The Vanna Venturi house which was completed by Robert Venturi himself about 40 years earlier was among the 12 masterworks of the Modern American Architecture that were feted by the United States Postal Service in the commemorative stamps.

One of a unique designs done by Venturi in his architectural practice includes The Strand. It is a boardwalk kind of a shopping center located in Galveston Texas. After his firm was hired in 1975 to revitalize the place, Venturi and his team went ahead to consider a range of architectural styles in this revitalization project. He noted that they could not favor one architectural style over the other styles and therefore considered a lot of the art deco and the nineteenth-century building styles. A range of color schemes were employed to unify the design to the neighborhood. The final result was an incredible and unique design that reclaimed the ailing neighborhood’s initial footings. In all locations that Venturi worked, his style was evident which remains to be his legacy to date. He creatively came up with a kind or hybrid architecture that integrated pieces and bits from the past together with those from the present to make a different outcome every time.

One of the smaller yet better-known buildings is the Vanna Venturi House which designed and constructed the home for his mother in 1964. The house is an excellent depiction of the hybrid kind of architecture that Venturi aimed at achieving in his life. It features both elements of the European symbolism and the American traditions. The building’s roof is one of the most outstanding design that Venturi incorporated in the house. He designed a pitch roof for the house with an entrance at the center and a chimney at the top of the house. The unique design that the house features influenced some architects into appreciating Venturi’s design. In the 1970s owing to Venturi’s great designs, other architects began emulating him. Even though the house attracted the attention of some of Venturi’s critics, it remains one of his notable achievements. The house is the subject of study for many architects and students throughout the world. It is clear that Venturi is helped a great deal in developing Postmodern architecture and coupled with his success, the world turned a new page in the history of architecture.

Venturi approach to architecture stood out and drove him into being a successful architect who many in the architectural community study to date. To discover the feel and the attitude of the city, Venturi together with his staff would journey to the city for which their design was meant. His success in the 1970s can be largely attributed to his keen attention to the details. Each and every building that Venturi designed was unique with clear variation from on building to another. The specific historical factors that Venturi depicted in his designs made each of his designs unique. Over time people came to understand Venturi’s designs as traditionally inspired and hence the use of symbolism in the designs. The kind of symbolism that Venturi applied in his design was influenced by many things including climate, the general site of the building, materials and the native building traditions. By bringing together the various elements, Venturi was able to come up with a unique yet hybrid architecture which would later come to be referred to as Postmodernism.

Postmodernism never stopped with Venturi. Instead, other architects following his footsteps have embraced the use of symbolism after recognizing its importance. Among the notable architects who have embraced modernism include architect cum author, Cesar Pelli. Cesar did not only acknowledge the importance of using symbolism but embraced postmodernism as a reminder that buildings need to have a symbolic role to play. He kept on reemphasizing the role of not only history but also a tradition in architecture. According to him, apart from suing the to perceive buildings, we also see them with our memories.


In conclusion, this article has successfully shown that Robert Venturi was revolutionary in real sense terms revolutionaries like by overthrowing the existing orthodoxies. Instead, he was a revolutionary in the sense that his challenge to Modernism was a wake-up call. To achieve his goal, he questioned through rule-breaking and playfulness to ensure the society embraced complexity over simplicity. That gave room for what can be considered as contradiction over dogma.

Almost all architects who have come up with their individual styles that have opposed the foundations of modernism have been categorized together and referred to as Postmodernists. Robert Venturi may not have called himself a postmodernist or a Postmodern architect, but because he moved away from what can be regarded as the stale of Modernism makes him a Postmodernist or a Postmodern architect. Going by the same description, it would be right to refer to all architects from the 1960s to 1980s who assumed similar steps as Postmodernists or Postmodern architects. However, to date, Postmodernism as perceived by Venturi is what has remained the most successful version of the architectural style.

Modernism did not meet the needs, desires and even the wants of the American people since it was not a style of architecture that was meant for them. Venturi together with some architects found the problem the American society faced then and solved it by taking the necessary steps. They saw architecture as a voice through which the generations to come later would hear since it tells the beliefs and the values a society holds. Therefore, postmodernism which Venturi helped to develop helped a big deal in addressing the issue architecture that had proved to be unresponsive. Venturi’s contribution to Postmodernism is undeniable since it is very evident from his success in addressing society’s ailments through architecture in the 1970s. He was able to address these ailments through great design that targeted the local level. His legacy remains alive and today he stands out from his contemporaries as not only a great architect but a unique one too.


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March 17, 2023

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