Robert Venturi presented A Disorderly Ode to Architecture That Engages on September 29, 2001 at “In Your Face,” a symposium conducted by Metropolis Magazine in London. The event focused on the importance and influence of Philadelphia-based architects Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates (VSBA). In praise of mannerism, Venturi’s manifesto seeks to explain what were a perceived mis-reading and non-comprehension of their architectural work and urban designs – around the ideas of mannerism, Pop content and iconography. Denise Scott and Robert always firmly believed that they were not Postmodernists in the sense of using historical context and contextual as a design aesthetic for urban spaces and architectural surface. Instead, their analysis of historical context was a way for them to practice architectural as media study of how structures communicate narratives. The lyrical prose that Robert presented was accompanied by a set of not just mere inspired images- but images, as he describes, they love. It is the juxtaposition of the oration of this ode, along with this specific set of images, that Robert communicates what Denise and he feels is the range of artistic freedom that they operate in. There are specific moments that Robert establishes connections of communication with contemporary media (iconography, mannerism, information, electronic technology). Two phrases in particular really strike a tension in term of what I had focus my thesis on.
Discovering the Familiar – rather than Stalking the Exotic
Within this image, Robert does not need to establish the irregular, yet beautiful nature of 70’s Vegas signs – Denise and Bob already have. The symposium was not looking for a confirmation, nor a further explanation of Learning from Las Vegas. Instead, Robert emphasizes that facts are already stranger than fiction. The familiar is not only exotic – its unexpected and extraordinary because of what programming people do with these normal objects of neon, metal, plastic and plaster.
Incidental Originality – rather than Overt Originality
A trained eye that examines the familiar, also understand that mass produced products and cultural items of consumption have physical peculiarities and tactile features that are odd. For instance, the image, that Robert shown in tangent with the statement, illustrates that these mundane, engineered object have a humor outside their function. What was designed to be the perfect pasta bowl for Ragu, Prego or Neuman’s tomato sauce – can be looked at from another angle. A Pea pod, a boat, a cloud, or even a snail comes to mind, and these subjective notions are what frame the incidental as original.
Robert then ended his lyrical prose with :
And finally, perhaps for our new Age of Terrorism, architecture as electronic-generic shelter more than architecture as formal-sculptural monument
It is obvious to read this verse as a critique of physical structures in urban environments that serve as egos of their clients. However, the confusion is that I interpret from this: a blank modernist shape that surfaced with information. The term electronic-generic shelter seem to suggest that media and technology will be at the forefront as context for building structures – not programming for clients. Yet, Denise and Bob have always been about the dialogue that buildings and signs have with the public. Maybe what is monumental in on streetscape is not physical structure, but what these structures facilitate in terms of exchange and narration.
1. Venturi, Robert. “Robert Venturi’s Disorderly Ode.” Metropolis Magazine. 30 Oct. 2001. Web. 06 Oct. 2011. <http://www.metropolismag.com/html/vsba/robert_venturi.html>.