Robert Venturi and his Architecture,
between the pages, on the walls and under the roof

(2012) essay, Academie van Bouwkunst Rotterdam, Architectuur- en Stedenbouwgeschiedenis


In two short texts of Robert Venturi, both published in his book Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: a view from the drafting room[1], Venturi seems to contradict himself in his thoughts on the media in relation to architecture. On the one hand he argues against architects focusing on publishing their work, but on the other hand he cares how his own buildings are represented through pictures in architectural reviews. In his text “Ceci Tuera Cela” Is Now “Cela est Devenu Ceci”: Some Thoughts Concerning Architecture and Media a sharp argument is made against 'the need today to catch our attention at a monthly pace via page of periodicals whose funnily cropped, flashy colored photographs taken from weird angles seems to be the ultimate raison d’être of architecture’.[2] In another text, Letter Not Sent to an Architecture Critic, Venturi writes in a sharp tone towards a critic who has refused to use his photographic material in a review. The critic in question, is being accused of deliberately using an ‘unflattering shot by a news photographer, dispatched to the site on a cloudy day to snap the building sans shadows from a lousy viewpoint that features the admittedly unfortunate bridge at the back of the building that was added to the program at the last minute, and includes a rickety temporary construction fence next door that dominates the foreground of his shot and obliterates the base of our building.’[3] (fig. I)

These obviously contradicting texts rais the question: how and where does Venturi's Architecture actually exist? Between the pages, on the walls or in real space under the roof? An inquiry is made into his (published) architecture, leading us as well to the topic of printed matter. A closer look to the title of the first text leads us to a well-known theme introduced in the 19th century by Victor Hugo in his book Le Notre Dame de Paris. ‘The book will kill the building’ as Victor Hugo writes. [4]


Notes
[1] Venturi, Robert. Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: a View from the Drafting Room. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996
[2] Venturi, Robert. “Ceci Tuera Cela” Is Now “Cela est Devenu Ceci”: Some Thoughts Concerning Architecture and Media in Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: a View from the Drafting Room. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996, p.275-277
[3] Venturi, Robert. Letter Not Sent to an Architecture Critic in Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: a View from the Drafting Room. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996, p.283-286
[4] Hugo, Victor. Dit zal Dat Doden in De Klokkenluider van de Notre Dame. Wageningen: L.J. Veen, 1974, p.155-167


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Image References
I. Clinical Research Building, published in Progressive Architecture

II. Gordon Wu Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, designed by VSBA, Black and white photocopy from Charles Jencks’ The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, sixth edition 1991. (Published in full color)

III. Tucker House in Katonah, New York, designed by VSBA,
Photographed from Charles Jencks’ The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, second edition 1978. Images by: Stephen Shore

IV. Tucker House in Katonah, New York, designed by VSBA,
Photographed from Architectural Monographs No 21: Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, on Houses and Housing, 1992. Image provided by VSBA

V. Detail of Tucker House in Katonah, New York, designed by VSBA,
Photographed from Architectural Monographs No 21: Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, on Houses and Housing, 1992. Image provided by VSBA