Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (Anglais) Broché – 1 janvier 1984
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Being one of the early "gray" architects, Venturi inspired a movement that eventually became characterized as "Post Modern." His early architectural work left a lot to be desired, since it seems less inspired by the many historical examples he favored, like Frank Furness, in this book and more by the banal trends in contemporary architecture at the time, eventually leading to Learning from Las Vegas (1972), where the concept of a building being a "duck," or a decorated shed, emerged.
This book's most appealing aspect is that it is immediately accessible. You don't have to be an architect to understand where Venturi is coming from, much less a grad student working on a dissertation. Venturi avoids all that senseless jargon that characterized architectural theory at the time and later came to engulf Po-Mo talk as well.
Postmodernism has come and gone, but modernism looks as it does today because of this book.
As background, International Style began with the streamlining aesthetic of the Bauhaus but had become by the 1960s a strict approach to design which demanded structural expressionism, especially in high-rise designs of reinforced concrete, steel frames, and glass curtain walls or other fenestration (geometric arrangement of windows). In fact, it was a style based strictly upon geometry -- symmetries, repetitive rectilinear forms, and neutral colors. A typical example is the Seagram Building in Manhattan.
Venturi wishes for a style of design that is more assymetric, idiosyncratic, and complex in its allusions. An example would be Venturi,Rauch, Scott Brown (VRSB's) early commissions, i.e., The Guildhouse.
As a practical matter, the skyscraper as a structure does not easily nor affordably accommodate Venturi's post-modernism. His ideas have had a more pervasive influence upon mid-rise buildings. Few would deny that the AT&T design as a multi-story 'Chippendale highboy' is more interesting & witty than the Seagram Building. (Both are dull compared to NYC's Art Moderne masterpiece -- the Chrysler Building).
Venturi's later writings, 'Learning from Las Vegas' & 'Learning from Levittown' are more accessible to those unstudied in classical Greek / Roman / Ren architectural history. For those who want a more readable intro into post-modernism, try Tom Wolfe's article for Rolling Stone on Las Vegas (early 60s?) & 'From Bauhaus to Our House.' I suspect that Venturi & Wolfe sat around in New Haven drinking martinis and arguing about American architecture in the late 1960s and these ideas are the result.
At its worst, post-modern design can become so eclectic as to be incoherent or so absorbed in history as to look 'revivalist'. Not being a practicing architect, so not enslaved to design ideology for my early career opportunities, I like to think of post-modern tactics as one among many -- the best architects choose the style that suits a specific commission, program, budget, & client's taste.
My own personal favorites of post-modern design, based upon buildability & functionality, and, upon originality & humor:
architecture -- Tigerman's Self-Park & his own 2nd home
infrastructure -- Calatrava's pedestrian bridges (Calatrava is really as much a modernist who expresses structure with flair rather than post-modern)
landscape -- Walker's Tanner Fountain (a rare use of Eastern allusion)