Robert Venturi has been described as one of the most original talents in contemporary architecture. He has also been credited with saving modern architecture from itself. He has done this by being eloquent verbally with his writings and visually with the appearance of his buildings. Like other Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates before him, he is a writer, a teacher, an artist and philosopher, as well as an architect.

Venturi graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1947 and received his Master of Fine Art degree, also from Princeton, in 1950. He furthered his studies as a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome from 1954 to 1956. Shortly after his return to the United States, he taught an architectural theory course at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Architecture. In the following three decades, he has lectured at numerous institutions including Yale, Princeton, Harvard, University of California at Los Angeles, Rice University and the American Academy in Rome.

In his first book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published in 1966 by the Museum of Modern Art, Venturi posed the question, "Is not Main Street almost all right?" He was arguing for what he called "the messy vitality" of the built environment. As he puts it, "We were calling for an architecture that promotes richness and ambiguity over unity and clarity, contradiction and redundancy over harmony and simplicity." He was challenging Modernism with the multiple solutions available from history—a history defined as relating not only to the specific building site, but the history of all architecture. He wanted architecture to deal with the complexities of the city, to become more contextual.

In his original preface to the book, Venturi states, "As an architect, I try to be guided not by habit but by a conscious sense of the past—by precedent, thoughtfully considered." He continues later, "As an artist, I frankly write about what I like in architecture: complexity and contradiction. From what we find we like—what we are easily attracted to—we can learn much of what we really are."

Venturi is an architect whose work cannot be categorized; to him, there is never a single solution. Lest anyone try to pigeon-hole him as a postmodernist, he declared that he was practicing modern architecture, and paraphrased his own words earlier about Main Street, "the modern movement was almost all right." emphasizing his close affinity to the basic tenets of modernism, while still giving importance to human use, memories, comfort and entertainment. Venturi has made it possible to accept the casual and the improvised in the built environment.

Venturi's early professional work was in the office of Eero Saarinen, where among other projects, he worked on the design of the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. He also worked in the offices of Louis I. Kahn and Oscar Stonorov in Philadelphia.

One of his first projects to be built that captured the attention of the architectural community was a house for his mother in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1989, it received the American Institute of Architecture’s Twenty-five Year Award as a design of "enduring significance that has withstood the test of time." Other well-known works include: Guild House (1964) in Philadelphia, comprised of 91 apartment units for the elderly, the Allen Memorial Art Museum (1976) in Oberlin, Ohio, the extension to Britain’s National Gallery of Art, begun in 1986 in London, and the recent Seattle Art Museum (1991).

Robert Venturi's wife, Denise Scott Brown, is an architect, planner, author, and educator. She has been a partner in the firm since 1969 and his collaborator in the evolution of architectural theory and design for the past 30 years. She is noted for bringing particular attention to the relationship of architecture, planning and social conditions, and is primarily responsible for planning, urban design and architectural programming.

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour collaborated on another book, published in 1972, Learning from Las Vegas, a further exploration of urban sprawl and the suburbs in relation to their architectural theories. A collection of their writings was also published in 1984, A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays, 1953-1984.

In one of the essays in the latter collection, Robert Venturi confessed, "Alvar Aalto's work has meant the most to me of all the work of the Modern masters. It is for me the most moving, the most relevant, the richest source to learn from, in terms of its art and technique. Like all work that lives beyond its time, Aalto's can be interpreted in many ways. Each interpretation is more or less true for its moment because work of such quality has many dimensions and layers of meaning." With a characteristic Venturi human, humorous touch, he added, "But Aalto's most endearing characteristic for me as I struggle to complete this essay, is that he didn't write about architecture."

In one of his essays in A View from the Campidoglio, Venturi says, "When I was young, a sure way to distinguish great architects was through the consistency and originality of their work...This should no longer be the case. Where the Modern masters' strength lay in consistency, ours should lie in diversity."

Architect Robert Venturi Is Named the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Robert Venturi, who has always identified himself as a Philadelphia architect, but whose projects are international in scope, has been selected to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize of 1991, generally acknowledged as architecture's highest award. Venturi, often described as one of the most original talents in contemporary architecture, has not only made his mark with built works, but with his writings, teaching and theories.

He has been credited with saving modem architecture from itself by making it possible to accept the casual and the improvised. After Venturi issued his now famous "Less is a bore," response to the Mies van der Rohe modernist dictum, "Less is more," architecture has not been the same.

In making the announcement, Bill Lacy, secretary to the international panel of jurors that elects the Laureate, quoted from the jury citation lauding Venturi, "He has expanded and redefined the limits of the art of architecture in this century, as perhaps no other has, through his theories and built works."

The prize, consisting of $100,000 grant, a medallion and formal certificate, will be presented by Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, in a ceremony on May 16 at Palacio de Iturbide in Mexico City, Mexico. Robert Venturi is the seventh American to become a Laureate since the prestigious prize was established by The Hyatt Foundation in 1979. Seven other architects from as many countries have been so honored in the same time period, making him the fourteenth Laureate.

Venturi, who will be approaching his sixty-sixth birthday when he receives the honor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Princeton University. He furthered his studies as a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

In the past three decades, his works have ranged from cups and saucers to major buildings that are or will become landmarks. In his hometown, he is designing a new Philadelphia Orchestra Hall. On Trafalgar Square in London, a major addition to the National Gallery of Art will soon be opened. Halfway around the world in Washington State, the Seattle Museum of Art will soon be finished. Down the coast to the University of California at Los Angeles, a new Medical Research Laboratory has just been completed.

Many of his projects are for institutions of higher learning, including his alma mater, Princeton, where he has numerous completed projects, among the most recent being the Fisher/Bendheim Halls. Other buildings are found on the campuses of Oberlin College, University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University and Dartmouth College.

 

One of his first projects to capture attention was a home built for his mother in 1961 in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, the Vanna Venturi House which just last year received the AIA's Twenty-Five Year Award for "enduring significance that has withstood the test of time."

His first book published in 1966, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, looked with fresh eyes at the architectural landscape of America and described the inherent honesty and beauty of ordinary buildings.

As the jury citation states, 'The extent of influence which this treatise has had on everyone practicing or teaching architecture is impossible to measure, but readily apparent ... From this simple observation he wove a manifesto that challenged prevailing thinking on the subject of American functionalist architecture and the minimalism of the International School." Lacy added, "No other book, with the possible exception of Le Corbusier's Versune Architecture has had such power in diverting the mainstream of architectural thought."

Denise Scott Brown has been his collaborator in the evolution of architectural theory and design for the past 30 years. They have been married for 24 years. They have written two other books, Learning from Las Vegas (with Steven Izenour) and A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays, 1953-1984 .

The distinguished jury that selected Venturi as the 1991 Laureate, including consists of J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (who is the chairman of the jury and founding member); and alphabetically, Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat, from Torino, Italy; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; architect Ricardo Legorreta of Mexico City; Toshio Nakamura, editor-in-chief of the A+U architectural publications, of Tokyo, Japan; architect Kevin Roche of Hamden, Connecticut (who is also a Pritzker Laureate of 1982); and Lord Rothschild, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art in London, England. 

 

Read Robert Venturi's Essay

Architecture is a profession about wood, bricks, stones, steel and glass. 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.

He has expanded and redefined the limits of the art of architecture in this century, as perhaps no other has through his theories and built works. Of the former, his thin but potent volume, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published in 1966, is generally acknowledged to have diverted the mainstream of architecture away from modernism.

The extent of the influence that this treatise has had on everyone practicing or teaching architecture is impossible to measure, but readily apparent. In this landmark book, Venturi looked with fresh eyes at the architectural landscape of America and described the inherent honesty and beauty of ordinary buildings. From this simple observation he wove a manifesto that challenged prevailing thinking on the subject of American functionalist architecture, and the minimalism of the International School.

Not content with just theory, Venturi began to implement his convictions. He provided full-scale illustrations of his ideas through his pioneering early buildings. His first houses, including one for his mother in 1961, gave form to his beliefs, confounding the critics and angering many of his peers. Over the intervening years he methodically forged a career that established him not only as a theorist of exceptional insight, but also as a master practitioner of the arts.

His understanding of the urban context of architecture, complemented by his talented partner, Denise Scott Brown, with whom he has collaborated on both more writings and built works, has resulted in changing the course of architecture in this century, allowing architects and consumers the freedom to accept inconsistencies in form and pattern, to enjoy popular taste.

As an architect, planner, scholar, author and teacher, Robert Venturi has distinguished himself as an architect with vision and purpose. His vision and purpose are in accord with the tenets of the Pritzker Architecture Prize qualifying him to take his place among those who are producing significant contributions to humanity through the art of architecture.

 

Jury Members

J. Carter Brown (Chairman)
Giovanni Agnelli
Ada Louise Huxtable
Ricardo Legorreta
Toshio Nakamura
Kevin Roche
Lord Rothschild
Bill Lacy (Secretary to the Jury)

Palacio de Iturbide, Mexico City, Mexico

El Palacio de Iturbide, located in the historical center of Mexico City, was designed by architect Francisco Guerrero y Torres and completed in 1785. The palace is an adaptation of the Spanish Barroque, as built in the New World. It is considered a masterwork of civil architecture of its period due to the richness of materials and sumptuous detailing. It is also the only eighteenth century Mexican residence to have four floors. The immense interior patio, recalling Italian villas, is defined by eighteen arches resting on Tuscan columns.

The palace takes its name from Agustin Iturbide, an important military and political leader (and first, but brief, Emperor of Mexico). The house was given to him in 1821 to served as his residence until 1823. Over the years the building has experienced many uses, including hotel, offices, and workshops. It was declared a national monument in 1931. Finally, the Palace of Iturbide was acquired in 1972 by Banamex, the National Bank of Mexico, and since then has been restored and used for important cultural activities.

 

Read Robert Venturi's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

 

palacio de iturbide

 

Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony