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Obituary: Robert Venturi (1925-2018)

by Miriam Sitz | Sep 20, 2018

Architect Robert Charles Venturi Jr. died Tuesday, September 18, 2018, at the age of 93, from complications of Alzheimer's disease in his home in Philadelphia. According to his son Jim Venturi, he was free of pain and listening to his favorite Beethoven piano sonatas. With him was his wife and longtime collaborator architect Denise Scott Brown.

Hailed as a catalyzing force of the Postmodern architecture style, the Princeton-trained architect published his groundbreaking treatise, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, in 1966, six years after founding his first firm with William Short. (John Rauch replaced Short in 1964.)  The text is credited with redirecting the profession’s prevailing Modernist sensibilities toward a more sophisticated, historically referential approach; in the book’s original preface, Venturi wrote, “As an architect, I try to be guided not by habit but by a conscious sense of the past—by precedent, thoughtfully considered." 

In 1964, Venturi completed the seminal project of his career: the Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, which he designed for his mother and demonstrates many of the principles he espoused in Complexity and Contradiction.

Venturi and Scott Brown were married in 1967; that year she officially joined the firm, becoming a partner in 1969. (The practice became known as Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates in 1989, and is today called VSBA.) The pair, along with Steven Izenour, published the influential tome Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form in 1972—another milestone in architectural theory. Venturi and Scott Brown also worked together on such landmark projects as the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, and Franklin Court in Philadelphia (both 1976), and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London (1991).

Venturi received the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize, as well as the 2016 AIA Gold Medal —an accolade that, unlike the Pritkzer, honored both Venturi and Scott Brown.

Born in Pennsylvania on June 25, 1925, Venturi was raised a Quaker. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 1947, then receiving his Master of Fine Art degree in 1950. From 1954 to 1956, he studied at the American Academy in Rome as a Rome Prize Fellow.

Upon returning to the United States, Venturi taught a course in architectural theory at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture; and throughout the rest of his career lectured at institutions including Yale, Princeton, Harvard, University of California at Los Angeles, Rice University and the American Academy in Rome.

A film Bob and Denise directed and produced by Jim Venturi is expected to be released next year. 

Robert Venturi was an SAH member from 1981 - 2011.


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