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Robert Venturi 1966

Review by: Yousef Taibeh


- Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by

Robert Venturi 1966 (most of the book was
written in 1962)

- Published by the Museum of Modern Art (the

classical advocate of Modern architecture)

- Venturi as a :

- Practitioner Architect (graduated from Princeton

Uni. In 1947)
- Artist (M.F.A from Princeton Uni. In 1950)
- Scholar, Author & teacher (Pennsylvania, Yale,
Princeton, Harvard, UCLA, Rice and the American
Academy in Rome in which previously was a Prize
fellow between 1954-56

The 60s, age of pluralism & revision (a key transitional period)

Political conditions:

New International Order post WW II, a shift from Europe to America..

Cold war -war of ideologies, warmed up in the 60s (Cuba crisis & outer-space race),
as The Economic boom slows dawn.
Liberation & individualism civil rights, King & X, Feminists & the pill, the Hippies & the Greens.

Conditions in cities:

- Post WWII, vast construction project & rebuilding for the destroyed European cities
- Modern architecture actualizing the mass production and the social theories.
- America getting out of the war unscratched.
- Corporate firms adapting the Modern Style. Striped from its original social program.
- Modern Architecture proves to be failure in dealing with urban problems or social aspects
- Zoning regulations urban renewal& anti-city theories of design added to the problem.
- The result is Eroded urban fabrics, dull and dangerous built environments.
- Suburbia and other urban sprawls as lived realities.
Design & planning

- The symbolic event of CIAM break

up in Late 50s
- The emerging new voices critiquing
& questioning Modernism
(Jacobs, Newman …)
- Architectural journals boom
supporting the different new
schools of thought trying to solve
problems of Modernism
(the rise of theory).
- A series of influential architectural
Design & planning practice:

The Neo-Empiricists (according to Broadbent,

recalling: Locke, Berkeley & Hume). Putting
Venturi in this category with:

- Cullen in Townscapes
- Lynch in the image of the city
- Alexander in pattern language
- Robert Stern
- Rowe & Koetter in collage city
The Wider cultural climate:

Academic Architects tried to borrow new thought

paradigms from other fields:


Pop arts & its playing on scale and/or context to

give new meanings for the ordinary.
In addition to the use of mixed media (impurity).

Op Art and its richness in complexity and


Surrealism in minimizing the role of the artist


stating that the whole is more
than the sum of its parts.
& that the same thing in
different contexts gives
different meaning

methods (systematic
investigation of consciousness
& its object)
The Death of the Artist
The Death of the Author
The Death of the Designer
The Death of the . . . .

The general trend to reject the vantage point of the

author or subject in favor of the text or the object

- Semiotics (Fernand De Saussure & Michel

Foucault, Broadbent in architecture)

- Structuralism (the true nature of things is in the

relationships we construct & then perceive
between them)


Eclectic compendium of visual

examples in architecture
illustrating the qualities of
complexity and contradiction
(between form & content, image
& meaning, inside & outside …)
Studying mostly architectural
examples and reflecting on
urban contexts bearing in mind
that the level of complexity and
contradiction will increase more
and more as the reach the
scale of the city.
The last part including
description for several projects
designed by VSBA, and in
which they tried to employ the
ideas and theories embodied in
the book.
ulgar rather than Heroic Multiple rather than M
Ambiguous rather
Both-And rather than Articulated
than Either-Or

Vulgar rather than Heroic Distorted

Ordinary rather rather
than th
Vulgar rather than Heroic
Complex rather
Mixed rather than
Multiple rather
Pure than Simple
than Monitory
ary rather than Multiple
Original rather than Monitory
Both-And rather than Either-Or
Vulgar rather than Hero
rather than
Ordinary rather
Ordinary rather than Original
stortedMixed than Straightforw
rather than Original
rather rather
than Pure
rather than Pure
Both-And rather than Either-Or
Ordinary rather than Original
Compromising rather than Clear
Multiple rather than
Both-And rather Monitory
than Either-Or
Ambiguous rather
Vulgar ratherthan
Both-And than
Complex rather than Simpl
omplex rather than Simple
Ordinary rather than Original
Vulgar rather than Hero
Theory, Propositions

The difficult whole, the difficult unity of inclusion rather

than the easy unity of exclusion (the Modernists
approach), is the method able to match the richness
and ambiguity of the 20th century experience. A unity
that creates tensions between the different fragments
(as unresolved situation) and gives them new values
and meanings in this new context.


- Conscious sense of the past / the presence of the

- Historical precedent is thoughtfully considered.
- The multiple levels of meaning.

Approaches & techniques:

- Contradiction juxtaposed (the difficult

whole) rather than contradiction adapted
- Using elements in strange positions or
contexts (Irony & parody)
- Using Mixed media
Favored examples, forms
& models:

The ordinary (even the ugly)

rather than the heroic & the

Everyday landscape, the

vulgar and disdained
(lesions from Las Vegas
-commercial strip, or the
suburban town of Levittown -
urban sprawl).

Double functioning elements

The complex architecture of
Mannerists, Baroque,
Lutyen, even some works of
the modernist themselves
particularly Le Courbiser,
Kahn & Alto (with vitriol
towards Mies & Wright)
Continuing Validity:

Vincent Scully while introducing the book compared

it to le Corbusier's “Towards a New Architecture”,
hailing it as: " among the few basic texts of our time
…, despite its anti-heroic lack of pretension and its
shift perspective from the Champs-Elysees to main
This statement wasn't far from true as Venturi's
"gentle manifesto" went through nine re-prints
within twenty five year and was translated into
sixteen languages. This book is considered to have
the founding role (beside Rossi's “the Architecture
of the city”) in the rise of Postmodernism and
breaking the stranglehold of functionalist thought.