Robert Venturi ranks amongst the most talented and original architects in contemporary architecture. Venturi is not only an architect, he is also an author, a teacher, an artist, and a philosopher.
Robert Venturi was born on June 25, 1925, in Philadelphia, in the house of a fruit grocer. He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, and graduated in 1943. He then entered the Princeton University, where he received his bachelors of arts summa cum laude, in 1947, and later his master’s in fine arts in 1950. During his time at Princeton, Venturi studied under the guidance of Jean Labatut, a leading French architect, who taught Venturi not only how to create buildings in the minds of the architect, but also how their perceptions are shaped in the minds of the people on the street. Venturi also studied architectural history under notable scholar, Donald Drew Egbert, which provided a vital source of inspiration in his later designs.
In 1950, he secured employment first at the architectural office of Oscar Stonorov, and later with Eero Saarinen. In 1954, he received a Rome Prize Fellowship, and he continued his studies at the American Academy in Rome. Along with Louis Kahn, for the next two years as he ventured in and out of the streets of Rome, he developed a particular admiration for the city’s Baroque and Mannerist monuments, and particularly, he drew his inspiration for traditional architectural vocabulary of columns, arches and pediments from the great works of Michelangelo and Borromini. In 1956, he returned to the US, and began teaching a course in architectural theory at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Architecture. Meanwhile, he also collaborated with Louis Kahn on several ventures.
In 1958, he decided to establish his own architectural practice, and he formed Venturi, Cope, and Lippincott. In 1964, he partnered with architect John Rauch to establish a firm, and in 1977, Venturi’s wife, Denise Scott Brown was made a third partner in their firm, Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown. In 1966, Venturi published his first book, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture”, where he talks about the “messy vitality” of the built environment, and poses the question, “Is not Main Street almost all right?” He says, “We were calling for an architecture that promotes richness and ambiguity over unity and clarity, contradiction and redundancy over harmony and simplicity.”
His most famous and highly acclaimed projects include a house he built and designed for his mother in the Chestnut Hill side of Philadelphia. In 1989, he received the American Institute of Architecture’s Twenty-five year award for this design that has an “enduring significance that has withstood the test of time.” His other projects include the Guild House in Philadelphia, the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, the extension to Britain’s National Gallery of Art, begun in 1986 in London, and the recent Seattle Art Museum.
Between 1966 and 1970, Venturi served as the Charlotte Davenport Professor of Architecture at the Yale University. Through the teachings of his lectures, he published a book in 1972, titled “Learning from Las Vegas”, co-authored by Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown. The book dealt with the artistic and inspirational aspects of the trendy and bright architecture of Las Vegas, and how it serves to offer insight into the lives of the inhabitants of the gaudy and sign-filled Vegas strip. In 1978, Venturi was made a Fellow at the American Institute of Architecture, and later, in 1990, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Robert Venturi has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including the AIA Medal for Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1978, AIA Architecture Firm Award, to Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in 1985, Commendatore of the Order of Merit by the Republic of Italy in 1986, AIA Twenty-five Year Award to the Vanna Venturi House in 1989, The Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991 and the United States Presidential Award, the National Medal of Arts in 1992 among many others.