One of the most influential architectural design and planning firms of the last half-century will be the subject of its first major retrospective exhibition when the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Out of the Ordinary: The Architecture and Design of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, on view from June 10 to August 5, 2001. With unprecedented access to the firm's architects and archives, the Museum will present some 250 works, many of which will be on public view for the first time, including drawings, models, photographs, videos, furniture, objects, and reconstructions of elements from their buildings. The exhibition will trace the provocative, playful, and often iconoclastic designs of this internationally known, Philadelphia-based firm, from Robert Venturi's earliest commissions in 1958 to major recent projects.
Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, husband and wife as well as partners in design, are often described as the founders of "postmodern" architecture, although their work bears only a tangential relationship with the practice of the postmodernists. Their famous books and buildings questioned the very foundations of the architectural status quo, and established new benchmarks for modern architecture with a strong sociological premise and engagement with historical tradition. Vincent Scully rightly called Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966, Venturi) "the most important writing on the making of architecture since Le Corbusier's Vers une Architecture of 1923." Venturi's appreciation of the visually rich architecture of all times definitively marked the turning point from the strict modernism of the mid-century International Style toward the more varied and self-critical architecture of the last 40 years. Learning from Las Vegas (1972, Venturi, Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour), encouraged architects to respect the real conditions of people's lives, and to respond creatively with art that addresses modern problems in readily understood terms.
The Vanna Venturi House (1959-65) in Chestnut Hill, just outside of Philadelphia, was almost immediately adopted as the iconic expression of a new type of architectural thinking and composition that could combine abstract, modern shapes and historical references, such as in the gabled front and tall chimney; it is as important in the history of architecture as Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye or Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Guild House (1961-66), a federally subsidized apartment building for the elderly in Philadelphia, became the emblem of a new sensitivity toward the actual lives and tastes of the tenants of public housing. The Trubek and Wislocki houses (1970-72), two shingled cottages on Nantucket, heralded the arrival of architecture that was unafraid of responding to vernacular tradition. Franklin Court (1972-76), an evocative, ghostly steel skeleton atop the site of Benjamin Franklin's home, wittily reminded visitors of the limits of historical knowledge. The Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin College (1973-77), Wu Hall at Princeton (1980-83), and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, London (1985-91), are representative of larger projects in which the established firm successfully responded to complex programs and challenging physical and cultural contexts. Recent building complexes, the Mielmonte Hotel at Nikko (1992-97) and the Hotel du Department de la Haute Garonne in Toulouse (1990-99) reflect new dimensions in the shaping of civic space.
Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates' singular and independent vision links their work to that of other distinguished Philadelphia architects whose careers the Philadelphia Museum of Art has previously celebrated and documented in exhibitions: Frank Furness (1839-1912), and Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974), in whose office Venturi briefly worked. As the city where Venturi and Scott Brown live and practice, Philadelphia is home to some of the firm's most acclaimed work, including the Vanna Venturi House, Guild House, Franklin Court, and the restoration of the Fisher Fine Arts Library (1985-91) by Furness at the University of Pennsylvania. Institutional buildings and academic master plans are, in fact, specialties of the firm. Ongoing projects for the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, among others, encompass architecture, campus and urban planning, site design, programming, and feasibility studies for the use and reuse of land and buildings.
Venturi, Scott Brown has a longstanding relationship with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The firm designed the Museum's Bicentennial exhibition, Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (1976); developed a comprehensive architectural plan to bring the Museum's galleries and period rooms into chronological sequence (1980); and produced a striking redesign of the West Foyer (1986-89).
Out of the Ordinary: The Architecture and Design of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates is organized by Kathryn B. Hiesinger, Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700, in collaboration with Professors David B. Brownlee and David G. DeLong of the University of Pennsylvania, and in association with The Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania. It is one of a series of exhibitions-all mounted in conjunction with the Museum's 125th anniversary in 2001--that will focus on the artistic, cultural and creative contributions of artists born or based in Philadelphia. The series, which will premiere in the fall of 2000 with Voyage of Discovery: The Landscape Photographs of Ray K. Metzker (November 18, 2000 to February 11, 2001), will continue with the bold portraits of Alice Neel (February 18 to April 15, 2001), and a retrospective exhibition of the painter Thomas Eakins (October - December, 2001) concurrent with the first major show of works on paper by the influential African American printmaker Dox Thrash (both October - December, 2001).
Out of the Ordinary: The Architecture and Design of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by the exhibition organizers.