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Robert Venturi's Post Modernism

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Submitted By benedict94
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History and Theory3 AT2 Theory verses
Chin Cher Wee

Complexity and contradiction was claimed be the most important writing in the making of architecture since Le Corbusier’s “vers une architecture” (Scrully, 1977). The book has manifested his points of view of the necessary complex and contradictory architecture, which essentially contains ambiguity and tension. Rather than exclude everything, inclusion of unity becomes the task of his architecture. He emphasizes the play of compromising of element which leads to difficult whole. The writing doesn’t reject nor accept any prevailing style, instead it abstracts the element of the building that demonstrates the complexity and contradiction in his thought and from them he combines and derives a new form of hybrid architecture.
On the other hand, it had been a controversy topic which he claimed that he was never and won’t be a post- modernism architect. However, his works and theory demonstrate postmodernism architecture which they claimed that they never intended to do so. The tension begins to surface, such influential pieces towards the post modernism, is claimed that the intention was never to be one. The relation between practice and theory of his work is then interrogated and investigated in this writing.

Ambiguity and tension are everywhere in an architecture of complexity and contradiction.
Architecture is a form and substance-abstract and concrete and its meaning derives from is interior characteristics and its particular context (Venturi, 1977, p20).
Presents day architect, in their visionary compulsion to invent new techniques, have neglected their obligation to be experts in existing conventions. (Venturi, 1977, p43)
Old clichés in new settings achieve rich meanings which are ambiguously both old and new, banal and vivid (Venturi, 1977, p44).
Besides circumstantial distortion, there are another technique of adaption. The expedient device is an element in all anonymous architecture that is dependent on a strong conventional order. It is used to adjust the order to circumstances which are contradictory to it (Venturi, 1977, p46)
Contradiction between outside and inside may manifest the inside and the outside can be a major manifestation of contradiction in architecture. However, one of the powerful twentieth century orthodoxies has been the necessity for continuity between them: the inside should be expressed on the outside (Venturi, 1977, p70)

Chestnut hill Vanna Venturi House, 1962

Contradictory levels of meaning and use in architecture involve the paradoxical contrast implied by the conjunctive ‘yet’.
They may be more or less ambiguous
(Venturi, 1977, p23).

Fig 1.0 front elevation of Vanna Venturi house

Meaning can be enhanced by breaking the order, the exception points up the rule (Venturi, 1977, p41).
Fig 1.1 plan of Vanna Venturi House.

In the Chestnut Hill project. Contradiction was achieved through several ways which were mentioned in his book. First through contradictory levels of meaning, the house was designed to be big yet little, which was indicated by being a small scale building, but having oversized windows, doors and chimney, the scale of the house becomes ambiguity. The façade also reflects the contradiction promoted by Venturi, which the overall composition of the front façade is symmetrical, however the minor elements in it are asymmetrical for the need of functions. It also accommodates the contradictory order, which conventional elements were used unconventionally in the building. Such as the gable, chimney, windows, form of the building which represents a house public scales were all altered through either fragmentation or oversizing. The contrast of inside and outside was achieved by the parapeted front and back walls which defines the façade as a screen, contradicts to the complex inner program of the house. On the other hand, the necessity for continuity between inside and outside was achieved by expressing the symmetrical consistency on the plan, and the varying sizes and location of penetrations on the outside expresses the circumstantial distortion of inside, nevertheless, the interior and the exterior was contradicted by the contrast colors.
Duality, in this case which are the chimney and the staircase, two vertical contrasting elements, one void and one solid, due to their competing central position, were compromised by inflecting towards the overall composition. The chimney and fireplace was move over a little as we mentioned before, and the staircase was distorted in width and shape because of the chimney. This can be related to the balloon frames he used as an example in his book, which

represents two pure extremes, evolved towards each other until it contains the characteristic of both ( Venturi, 1977, pg38).
The house was also attempt to accommodate the directional and non-directional space in a whole. The rectangle shaped living room and parallel to the overall rectangle plan, in a sense of non-directional space is connected to a diagonal wall which defines the directional need for the important entrance.
Even though the house is fragmented into two, the central chimney, acting as a dominant binder, easily connects the duality into a unity as a whole.
The house contains numbers of contradiction generated by symbol need and circumstantial need are resolved by inclusion instead of exclusion promoted by the architect.
Guide house, friends hosing for the elderly, Philadelphia, 1960-1963

Fig 2.0 Front façade of the guide house

Fig 2.1 Plan of guide house

The building was designed in a way to accommodate the contradiction of the front and back facades, which are different in shape, contrasting to the side façade, as a result of the intricate complex planning of the inside and also emphasis the interior space demand rather than exterior space. The method inflection which was mentioned in the book was adopted to accommodate these duality.
The front street façade is a contrast element that separates the inside and outside. However. The big arch window reflects the unique spatial arrangement of the common room at the top floor on the outside, achieves the continuity of outside and inside and the contradiction between them. The big arch is also responding to the wide entrance and windows arranged in two columns, connecting them as a unity in a whole composition. The big round exposed column at the center of the front façade emphasizes the exceptional entrance, which breaks the overall composition order, is painted in black. This arrangement
Fig 2.2 Fuga. Church of S. Antonio and S.
Brigida. Elevation study

reflects the use of dominant binder (fig2.2), a less difficult and unambiguous way to resolve duality rather than inflection, which was illustrated in the book. (Venturi, 1997, p100)
Another contradiction can be found, which is the contrasting ornamental white finishing wall at the lower front façade, creates a new scales of three story building impression, which juxtaposed on the other smaller scale of six stories defined by the small windows. This contrasts with the surrounding similar scale building.
Headquarters building, North Penn Visiting Nurse Association, 1960.

Fig 3.0 Headquarters building

Fig 3.1 plan of Headquarters building

The context suggests a simple form to compensate large surrounding buildings, and a retaining- walled auto court up front is needed as well. The contradiction starts with the duality which are set up by the building and the court. Here, the wall at the front building becomes an infliction device which inflicted towards the court to resolve the duality. In this case, “direction is a mean
Fig 3.2 Della Porta and Domenichino. Villa of inflection”. (Venturi, 1977, pg94) (fig3.2)
Aldobrandini, Frascati. Perspective.

Circumstantial exception occurs at the entrance of the building, which refers to the arch sitting on top of the opening, contrasting in shape with the general simple square form of the building.
It suggests the necessity of breaking the order due to the need of emphasizing the exceptional entrance. Expedient distortion was illustrated by the diagonal wall at the central hall, which was squeezed into rigid enclosure for the need of program complexities.
Superimposition is also adopted at the front entrance which suggests the large opening is necessary for a civic building scale, and was juxtaposed on the man-scaled doors. It resolved the contradiction between symbolic need and the function need.
The upper windows are large and few which responds to the function need, on the other hand they increase the scale of the overall small building, yet contradict to the small lower windows.
The complex positioning these windows reflects the complex interior circumstances. However,

the contradiction between the scales of the two different scale windows still exists, and hence it was resolved by adding the wood moulding to the small lower window, an extended frame which increase the scale of the small windows.

Without a doubt the book was the very foundation for the development of postmodernism architecture. However, Venturi (American Architect now, 1984) proclaimed and rejected his fatherhood relationship with post modernism architecture, and also criticized the post modernism by saying they are just as rigid as modernism. This begins to catch my attention to re-investigate the true goal embed in his theory and practice.
If this is how we define post modernism-those who turn their back against modernism, can we really classify him as one? In the beginning of the book Complexity… a series of rejections that bashes orthodox modernism architecture was written to clarify what he thinks an architecture should not be. However, as the page goes on, I then realized the true intention of this book is just merely explaining Venturi’s argument against modernism and his believe in something better than the pure form and straight line. Even more, works by some of the modernist architects, was illustrated in his book which achieves his virtue of architecture. It is not modern architecture Venturi rejects, but orthodox architecture, which is not necessarily reference to the virtue of purity, unity nor directness that modernism promotes. He is just rejecting the modernist conception of history by justifying architecture’s history is a slow accommodation of convention with the use of unconventional way, a buffering of old with the new, a slow evolution over an inevitable dialectic and revolution. If we look at his built work, we’d also then realized his built works are just like a distorted modern box, and that relates to his statement which claims that he is not trying to create any style. Through the observation above, is Venturi a post-modernist? Not exactly.
If you’d say Venturi is a classist and the book Complexity…will reject this statement as to venturi, a best architecture fits best to its pace and an interesting architecture contains paradox and plurality. In the end it is quite clear that Venturi made his point visually but not necessarily via the use of historical reference. Complexity and contradiction in architecture is not advocating historical reference but a non-orthodox architecture. In his built works, we could get a sense of historical reference however their illustrations are so implicit rather than literal classical. Hence, we can’t classify him as a Classist. Venturi claims himself as an architect of classical tradition of western architecture.
Referring to the precious discussion, it is true that Venturi’s practical works seemingly fulfilled his written theory. But the fact is that the written theory is used in various numbers of ways, as it is rhetorically way too ambiguous to spot the imprecision between the theory and practice. This result in the great difference from building to building of his. Yet, Venturi and his wife during an interview expressed their regret for the misinterpretation of others architects. In my point of view, their stand for their work is reasonable, but in some way, the meaning of it to the architecture world has lost. Instead of discussing about the classification of his work and

theory, the influence of it becomes a more sensible question. Even if Venturi deny his work being postmodern, the influence of Complexity… towards post modernism architecture is apparent. Instead of viewing his work as an ambiguous dogma, why not seeing it as an inspiration which many postmodernists did. There is no right or wrong of any style, nor truth or false in architecture, even they abstract their belief from yours incompletely. I see Complexity… as a powerful evidence of manifesto in a form of inspiring architectural rhetoric, grand yet faulty, rather than dogma to believe in. I’m truly faithful in the value of Complexity… just the way that people take makes the difference.

Reference list
-American Architect now, 1984, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, viewed on 11th May 2015, -Hidden City Philadelphia, 2013, Venturi Guide house: 5o years of everyday extraordinary design, viewed on 11th May 2015,
-Kahl, D 2008, Robert Venturi and his contribution to Postmodern architecture Vol.3, University of
Wisconsin Board of Regents, Oshkosh.
-Leone , G 2006, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's Confrontation with Postmodernity, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania.
-Rebar, 2010, Complexity and contradiction interpreted, viewed on !0th May
-Venturi, R 1977, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Museum of MoMA, New York.…...

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