Inspiration Part II

Most projects I get to design are not located in the middle of nowhere, as most things in the world are :)

Every project has a major component, as I mentioned in my last component, it’s surroundings. More often then not we find ourselves designing for an addition or renovation of an existing building. Here a lot of inspiration, at least for me, comes from the original buildings. Another topic for another time would be should the new piece of architecture play “nicely” with the original? Depends on who you ask.

I feel that we should take Architectural cues from our surroundings. Keep in mind not all existing buildings are architecturally significant but we can use more than just the buildings as influence: the era the building was built in, the materials, location, etc.

A project I love that I think encompasses this very wall is the Sainsbury Wing addition to the National Gallery in London by Venturi Scott-Brown. I have included a photo at the end for reference. Look how they take cues from the existing building and use the elements in their unique style. 

Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, London, England.

Venturi Scott-Brown Addition to the Left. Original to the Right.

QR Codes and the Architecture of Indifference

Venturi Scott Brown and Associates, the architecture studio established by  octogenarian theorist Robert Venturi, is entering into the digital age byway of QR codes on sign posts. Unencumbered by best practices in usability or by statistical data*, VSBA restates its tepid design sensibility and passé post-modernism to the delight of the American Association for State and Local History.

From the architects’ website:

VSBA has designed a signage system for the West Jersey Time Traveler Initiative — an exciting blend of technology and graphics highlighting a number of historical sites around Cumberland County, New Jersey.

Each sign provides a QR code linking to an interpretive podcast for that particular site.  Just scan with a smartphone or other device.  Our signs have been installed at fifteen historical locations– including residence, a bank, a church, and a shul.  And the signage template was design to be applied easily to other sites in the future.

Recently completed, the project has been won an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History and was presented as a case study at the New Jersey History and Historical Preservation Conference.

*21% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 have never scanned a QR code from a poster or sign. Repeat use, which you would suspect is significantly lower, is not included in the study (Pitney Bowes, “Getting Ahead of the Emerging QR Code Marketing Trend” Jan. 15 2013). 

uncube No. 12 “Into the Desert” is out NOW!! Featuring an interview with Denise Scott Brown, A history of NYC Pools, a dancing fountain and some Frank Behry flavoured ice-cream to cool off with.


Robert Venturi and Diane Scott-Brown, discussing their work and the public’s (often negative) reaction to it.

It’s obvious they get a lot of hate, but I just finished reading Architecture as Signs and Systems (for a Mannerist time) which they wrote about 10 years after this, and I really agree with them. They’re just trying to make architecture that works and that will last, that may not look so nice. ‘Evolutionary over revolutionary’ and 'context in context’ are good mottos from the book. Obviously I won’t apply them to architecture, but I’m dying to apply VSB’s attitudes to art, filmmaking or design. It’s an inconvenient truth but sometimes things that work better are better than things that show off…

Newsmakers Interview: Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi

Robert Venturi; Denise Scott Brown; VSBA; Daniel McCoubrey; Nancy Rogo Trainer

Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, founders of the eminent Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, announced on Monday that they have passed the baton to president and principal Daniel K. McCoubrey and principal Nancy Rogo Trainer. Under McCoubrey’s and Trainer’s leadership, the firm is now known as VSBA. Scott Brown spoke with Architectural Record about the long-planned transition, her continued writing and research, and Venturi’s retirement.

By Suzanne Stephens July 25, 2012

Daniel McCoubrey and his team at VSBA completed the renovations and additions to Pennsylvania’s Allentown Art Museum in 2012.Photo © Matt Wargo

Even logical transitions often come as a surprise. Take the news that the office of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates has officially changed its name to VSBA, LLC to reflect the new ownership of the firm by long-time associate Daniel K. McCoubrey. Robert Venturi, 87, and Denise Scott Brown, 81, announced they are passing the baton to McCoubrey, president and principal of the new firm, and to Nancy Rogo Trainer, also a principal. While McCoubrey says the terms of ownership are confidential, he adds, “the timing seemed right. We finished the Curtis School of Music’s Lenfest Hall in the fall of 2011, and are completing additions and renovations for the Allentown Art Museum [in Pennsylvania], along with the renovation of the 19th-century Fay House at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University.” In addition he says, the fact that “the firm had gone from 18 people before the 2008 recession to about 10 today, makes the transition easier to deal with.” McCoubrey, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture, has worked with Venturi and Scott Brown since 1981, and Trainer, also a Penn graduate, joined the firm in 1987.

Photo © Frank Hanswijk Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Succession in architectural firms is often difficult, and in this case the legacy of Venturi and Scott Brown looms especially large. The Princeton-trained Venturi is credited with helping turn the profession’s slavish allegiance to a monotonous form of Modern architecture in the post-war decades toward a sophisticated, historically referential approach with his landmark treatise, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture(1966). Scott Brown, originally from Johannesburg, where she studied architecture before going off to London’s Architecture Association, brought a planning emphasis to the Philadelphia firm. Scott Brown, who married Venturi in 1967 and became a partner in the firm in 1969, famously spearheaded the office’s analysis of the urbanistic lessons offered by the capital of glitz in the book Learning from Las Vegas, which the two wrote with associate Steven Izenour in 1972.  Their theoretical writings were always fleshed out by actual buildings: the Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania (1964) and the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London (1991) are two much touted examples of Venturi and Scott Brown’s ingenious uses of history for modern design.

As critic Martin Filler says about Venturi and Scott Brown in Makers of Modern Architecture, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry (2007), “Few present-day architects can equal the formidable array of skills they bring to their partnership: brilliant draftsmanship, a superb (if sometimes intentionally quirky) sense of proportion, keen understanding of the power of symbols, acute social insight, and an ability to apply the lessons of history meaningfully to contemporary purposes.”

Record asked Denise Scott Brown to comment on the transition and the legacy of the firm, which started off as Venturi and Short in 1960, became Venturi and Rauch in 1964, then Venturi Rauch and Scott Brown in 1980, before its most recent nomenclature in 1989.

SS: The news about the succession seems surprising. When did you decide to do it?

DSB: It was a long while coming. I began talking with Dan [McCoubrey] in the early 1990s. One of the things I talked about was getting smaller as we got older. We needed to come down to a manageable size for a new group to take over. But we also wanted to see certain projects through completion, and to meet our contractual commitments. The recession helped, but this is a new organization with new ownership and a new name. They are not us, and we are not them.

SS: What do the new principals [McCoubrey and Trainer] offer prospective clients?

DSB: They have been with us for 25 years or more and are loyal employees. Nancy is great at high-level financial management, although they are both convincing entrepreneurs and excellent managers.

SS: Are you going to have any role in the new firm?

DSB: I recently hurt my back and had to stay at home—and found I loved it—since I’m still writing and lecturing. I have kept out of their hair, although, I’ll go once a week to the office. I just wrote an introduction to a book on the writings of Josef Frank, an early 20th-century Austrian architect and designer who fled to Sweden in 1933 and fell in with the Swedish modern furniture designers.

SS: What about Venturi?

DSB: Bob is retired—he is not practicing and doesn’t want to talk or write. He has a view of retirement that means going to the office in the morning and then coming back to house. But he prefers a simple life, with no stress.

SS: What do you consider your firm’s legacy?

DSB: I would say communication as a function of architecture is a major one. The other thing is that we have designed buildings according to the way people use them, how they meet each other and interact. Also we have investigated planning based on urban economics and transportation. We see how the street generates a level of activity on the land beside it and the way the crossroads provide the center of an evolving city. This thinking is expressed in the planning reports for campuses we have done. I would like to write about campus planning in terms of the principles that we as a firm have used, many of which aren’t fully recognized.

Happy 85th birthday to architect Robert Venturi, whose cheery façade panels from the Best Products Showroom are now on view on Floor 3. During the 1970s, Best Products’ founders commissioned firms like Venturi and Rauch (now VSBA) and SITE (Sculpture in the Environment) to design architecturally novel, often whimsical showrooms that set the chain apart from its competitors. MoMA celebrated these radical approaches to retail architecture in the 1979 exhibition “Buildings for Best Products.” [Venturi and Rauch, Robert Venturi, John Rauch, Denise Scott Brown. Façade Panels from Best Products Showroom, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. 1973-79. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2015 Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown] via @themuseumofmodernart