Robert Venturi
Credit: Courtesy Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. Robert Venturi

Robert Venturi, FAIA, died on Tuesday at 93, according to a statement from VSBA Architects & Planners. The 2016 AIA Gold Medalist (with partner and wife, Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA) and 1991 Pritzker Prize laureate, Venturi will always be best known for his two seminal books, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (The Museum of Modern Art, 1966) and Learning from Las Vegas, with Scott Brown and Steven Izenour (The MIT Press, 1972).

Venturi was born on June 25, 1925, in Philadelphia, and received degrees from Princeton University in 1947 and 1950. He remained a resident of his hometown for the rest of his life, with brief absences to work for Eero Saarinen (1951) and live at the American Academy in Rome (1954-56). He taught at the University of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1967, and also taught at Yale University and Harvard University. He married Scott Brown in 1967, and they remained collaborators for the rest of his life. Their son, James Venturi, is the founder of New York–based ReThink Studio.

Venturi's studies as Rome Prize fellow in 1954-56 gave him much material for what would eventually be published as Complexity and Contradiction. During a joint talk at Chicago’s Graham Foundation, Denise Scott Brown described how the methodology of Complexity and Contradiction came to be: Venturi was teaching architectural history and analyzed how he personally mined the rich variety of historical form to produce his own work. Later the same evening, Venturi denied that this process was responsible for the subsequent rise of post modernism. “If I was the father of post modernism, it was a bastard child,” he declared.

Declaring “less is a bore” in Complexity and Contradiction, Venturi skewered the orthodoxy of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and other modernists, while opening a formalist approach to a heterodox architecture. In Learning from Las Vegas, he posited that buildings could be categorized as either ducks or decorated sheds, while showing his willingness to move beyond the high art of architectural history, and embrace broader American culture in his work.

Las Vegas, 1966
Denise Scott Brown Las Vegas, 1966

Not to be overshadowed by his writing, the architectural work produced by the firms he led (Venturi and Rauch; Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown; and Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates) was distinguished. Important works include the Vanna Venturi House (1964) in Philadelphia; Fire Station #4 (1968) in Columbus, Ind.; Gordon Wu Hall (1983) at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.; and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery (1991) in London. The Vanna Venturi House, which he designed for his mother, received the AIA 25 Year Award in 1989 and was featured by the United States Postal Service on a stamp in 2005 celebrating “Masterworks of Modern American Architecture.”

Robert Venturi's Fire Station No. 4
Tom Harris Robert Venturi's Fire Station No. 4
Steven Goldblatt Vanna Venturi House

While drawing on the vast treasury of architectural history for his work, the Philadelphia native was very much influenced by local references, including architects Frank Furness and Louis Kahn (with whom he taught at Penn).

The collaborative nature of Venturi’s practice was a subject of controversy for many years. When he protested that the 1991 Pritzker Prize should have been jointly awarded to him and Scott Brown, he was told the honor was strictly for individuals. Long time mentor Vincent Scully recommended that Venturi decline the honor, but as Venturi told me in a 1999 interview, “We needed the money.” The 2016 AIA Gold Medal to both Venturi and Scott Brown was the first joint award given for that honor.

"Robert Venturi, Pritzker Prize laureate of 1991, effectively expanded the boundaries of the role the architect," said Martha Thorne, the executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, in an email to ARCHITECT. "While architecture is about the design and realization built works, the Pritzker Jury stated, It is also an art form that is based on words, ideas and conceptual frameworks. Few architects of the twentieth century have been able to combine both aspects of the profession, and none have done so more successfully than Robert Venturi." [sic]

Venturi retired from practice earlier in the decade. His work has recently been in the news as critics have debated proposed alterations to his 1996 renovation and expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.