“There Is Still A Lot To Be Learned From Postmodernism” Says Denise Scott Brown

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Denise Scott Brown

Pomo summer season: in this unique interview, architect and planner Denise Scott Brown distinguishes the analysis-led brand of Postmodernism championed by herself and husband Robert Venturi, from the style employed by Philip Johnson, which she calls “limp” (+ transcript).

Unlike several architects and designers, the Philadelphia-based duo embrace the controversial Postmodern movement, which they are credited with assisting identified in the 1960s.

But speaking to Dezeen earlier this month, Scott Brown was quick to place distance in between their function and far more superficial versions of the fashion, which she calls Pomo.


Connected story: The Dezeen guide to Postmodern architecture and layout


“We do Postmodernism, Philip Johnson does Pomo,” Scott Brown advised Dezeen. “It isn’t going to have all that considered behind it and it does not even have the believed about aesthetics that we have completed behind it.”

“I phone Pomo ‘limp’, and feel what we do is lasting and portion of Modernism’s lengthy-previous departure.”

Johnson – who died in 2005 – made iconic Modernist buildings which includes the 1949 Glass House, and the 1958 Seagram Constructing with Mies van der Rohe. But later in his occupation, he developed the AT&ampT creating in New York with elements that are significantly a lot more closely related with Postmodernism, including the historical-looking pediment on prime.

“Bob commenced to say ‘we’re not Postmodernist’ when he noticed what Philip Johnson was undertaking,” mentioned Scott Brown.

Queen Anne Chair by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott BrownRobert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Queen Anne chair was a single of a series of flattened designs created by the duo in the 1980s

“But I later explained: ‘Look Bob, why let Philip have this when we really have some thing so considerably a lot more severe, and it truly is tied to individuals who call themselves Postmodernists, who are quite significant about life and have carried out superb items about generating art’.”

Scott Brown believes that the legacy of her and her husband’s Postmodernism has been a shift in the way architectural research is carried out.

“We have turned it into learning about how decoration works along with other issues, or studying cultural values in relation to design and style,” she explained. “I consider there was a great deal that was realized in that way from Postmodernism, but there is still a great deal to be learned.”

Study on for an edited edition of the transcript from our interview with Denise Scott Brown:


Dan Howarth: How precisely do you define Postmodernism?

Denise Scott Brown: In defining our Postmodernism – going considerably additional back, involving social concern and critical religious thought – we distinguish it from what Philip Johnson picked up from us at the [1976] Indications of Life demonstrate. There Philip Johnson go through all that tight prose from the city space, the total damn good deal. And that’s exactly where he acquired his, what I call, Pomo.

So we do Postmodernism, Philip Johnson does Pomo. It does not have all that thought behind it and it isn’t going to even have the considered about aesthetics that we have carried out behind it. I contact Pomo “limp”, and consider what we do is lasting and component of Modernism’s prolonged-past departure.

Dan Howarth: What do you feel the legacy of Postmodernism is?

Denise Scott Brown: Properly, I’m nevertheless trying to deal with that. That tiny house [Vanna Venturi] turned round the culture of architecture. Our studios Learning from Las Vegas and Learning from Levittown – we have been advised by numerous individuals it has turned about the culture of research in architecture.

Function is a considerably broader topic than the Modernists thought of it

It has created research some thing considerably closer to design and style, to utilized investigation, than what you did as study just before, which was the sort of historical theses that would permit you to teach, or else permit you some structure that would enable you to be an engineer for architecture. That’s what study in architecture used to be about.

We’ve turned it into studying about how decoration operates along with other things, or learning cultural values in relation to design and style, and all kinds of other things. An individual mentioned lately that that Las Vegas studio and all of its teaching approaches are nonetheless to be plumbed by architects and I totally agree. What we put into it, they have not realised the half of it.

Considerably of it came from my arranging education, which is where they did studios like that – teamwork and a whole lot of analysis, huge anxiety about not relating function and layout. Not acquiring study through a ritual that you danced and then you closed that guide and then you go onto your favourite subject layout, truly making the 1 lead to the other.

So I consider there was a lot that was learned in that way from Postmodernism, but there is nonetheless a whole lot to be realized. Perform is a significantly broader topic than the Modernists imagined of it. I’m nonetheless fighting architects to get them to understand and I am attempting to believe how I can do that. I’m making an attempt to create about it, but when I do, the second I mention the word “planning” they run proper onto an additional chapter.

Postmodernism in architecture: Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott BrownThe influence of Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi Home was so wonderful, it is now credited as the initial Postmodern developing. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Smallbones

Dan Howarth: Can you please explain a bit more about the big difference between Postmodernism and Pomo?

Denise Scott Brown: Bob started out to say “we’re not Postmodernist” when he noticed what Philip Johnson was performing. And that is correct, we do not do what he does. But then he mentioned a extremely amusing issue. You don’t forget when American communists have been forced to say: “I am not a communist and have by no means been a communist”. It was a terrible time of corruption in American politics when that occurred. That was a extremely well-known statement, so Bob explained: “I am not a Postmodernist and have never ever been a Postmodernist”, considering of his mother’s socialism and all of people things. So it was a joke.

But I later said: “Look Bob, why let Philip have this when we actually have one thing so much more severe, and it truly is tied to folks who get in touch with themselves Postmodernists, who are really critical about daily life and have carried out wonderful things about generating artwork”.

Following a holocaust there can be no innocence in artwork, in architecture. Even our idealistic talk about industrialising issues. Auschwitz was an industrial programme for death before there were a lot of for life.

When is commercialism amoral and when is it excellent architecture?

To my way of thinking, Philip just will take a certain type of tricking notion. He did some great buildings when he was early Modernist, but perhaps other individuals did them for him, I’m not confident. But he doesn’t present the identical comprehending of scale that we have. When we have completed borrowing it has been culturally relevant borrowing. When he has completed borrowing it has been from us!

He does not perform as hard on his information and he doesn’t have the talent to do all that. In the end he was mocking architects. “Well,” he explained “I have manufactured a good deal of cash. You call me a whore but search at all the cash I’ve manufactured”.

Dan Howarth: Another side of what you refer to as Pomo that sticks out in people’s minds is commercialism.

Denise Scott Brown: I realised that, but you know which is funny. They detest commercialism in Pomo, but believe of the origins of Modernism in Chicago. All those buildings that we adore have been massive industrial buildings. So when is commercialism amoral and when is it great architecture? Absolutely when it has all the talent.

Postmodernism in architecture: Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott BrownVanna Venturi Property – designed by Robert Venturi for his mother in the late 1950s – reinterpreted the archetypal suburban property as a modern architectural statement. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user Smallbones

Dan Howarth: What do you feel about Memphis’ contribution, or alignment with, Postmodernism?

Denise Scott Brown: I believe of these individuals as fairly talented and quite fascinating. We had a pretty odd meeting with Sottsass courtesy of two of my college students, who were Italian, who I taught at UCLA – talented architects who had been doing wonderful factors when they acquired back from Los Angeles and then they each died – but they had been his students as well and they brought us together.

But we really couldn’t talk because he was into drug culture and we’re such… You know that painting of American Gothic? Well a single of the individuals in our office place our faces onto the background of American Gothic utilizing Photoshop. I explained, “he’s appropriate, we are like that!”

When we have carried out borrowing it has been culturally appropriate borrowing

There is a lot of drug culture close to Pop Art and when we’ve gone to meet individuals who are involved in all that, the Americans say we poop their parties. They get embarrassed about us since we never smoke stuff. They say what will you drink or smoke? And we say we do not smoke, either cigarettes or pot, and then everyone feels guilty about us. We just never match in that variety of environment, even though they feel we do.

Dan Howarth: And do you contemplate the Memphis furniture to be Postmodern?

Denise Scott Brown: Yes, I feel there is a spirit and a seriousness about that, and a talent close to that.

In all of people factors, talent can get you quite far, but Philip didn’t have significantly. Philip was also a extremely evil individual, you considered he was sponsoring youthful architects and he was not really. And the ones he did sponsor they have been genuinely curtailed by their association with him. So, yeah not a wonderful kind of atmosphere.

Denise Scott Brown, photo from Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott BrownDenise Scott Brown, pictured outdoors Las Vegas in 1966, demanded recognition for her role in her husband Robert Venturi’s 1991 Pritzker Prize. Photograph from the archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

Dan Howarth: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your operate with Venturi?

Denise Scott Brown: I would be grateful if you would remember that I have worked with Bob considering that 1960, etching 1st and then in practice. For a really, very long time it has been the two of our operate, although no a single would accept that.

And of course the Pritzker Prize and Lord Palumbo… he’s an ass, he truly is. He explained: “You cannot rewrite history”. That is not a quite intellectually respectable strategy to the entire point. No one asked him to rewrite historical past, no one asked him to comment on history.

So I am obtaining to battle that battle as nicely. They would not put my identify on the Knoll chairs, but they know very well what my part was in all of that.

Dan Howarth: Can you inform me specifically what your function was?

Denise Scott Brown: Effectively basically I was doing work with Bob all that time and that’s one particular of the projects where he is much more accountable than I am, that is in no doubt. But in discovering sources for him, and the way of thinking which we both arrived at which lead him to consider like that. And then in doing work to the millimetre with him in details of houses, that jigsaw was going to go and make those issues, I did all that. I would place it this way: he invested months on people styles, whereas I invested weeks.

It is him, but it’s quite significantly is me and the coming with each other of that type of considering. He couldn’t say where I left off and he began in standard, and that error applied to distinct things. And in some projects I am far more concerned and in some projects he is far more concerned. It really is a joint sharing which then branches out and I have described to you the nature of that branching in the Knoll task and in which I am carrying out the most and he’s offering, once more, useful but smaller sized amounts of suggestions.

Portrait of Denise Scott Brown by Frank Hanswijk.

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