1968

Venturi and Rauch

Fire Station No. 4

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It may not be coincidental that the villa at La Chaux-de-Fonds has as the principal motif of its main facade a flat white panel, divided into three--"the central one, elaborately framed, comprises an unrelieved blank white surface." Although the sources of Le Corbusier's panel are obviously different, the formal similarities to Venturi & Rauch's white brick billboard panels at the Guild House (1960-1965) and Fire Station No. 4 (1965) are unmistakable.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 98.

At sixty miles per hour, Venturi and Rauch's Fire Station No. 4 in Columbus, Indiana (1965), is immediately recognizable. At the top of its hose-drying tower is a large numeral 4. A white pattern of brick, seemingly overlaid on the red brick building, is like a pasted-on advertising poster. This literary analogy may not be visually immediate, since the white poster shape is incomplete because of cutouts for doors and windows, which it permissively cuts across without alignment; but once understood, the billboard is unforgettable. The white brick is set in from the corners of surrounding red brick and the front elevation has a parapet or false front that is higher on the left side than on the rest of the building to give the elevation proportions different from the actual volume of the building. Indefinably, vaguely, this cutout shape of the overlaid white brick billboard suggests an inverted upside-down 4. Like Al Held's superscale, fragmented triangle paintings of the mid-1960s, it is additional and sublimely signage.

Another minor decorative devise illustrates Venturi & Rauch's pop Mannerism. Above the doors to the hose-drying tower and beneath the exposed quartz light fixture that illuminates the 4 two black bricks are set in the white coursework. They literally underline the light fixture, making another literary analogy. "We think it looks more pert this way," Venturi said, using a novel adjective for architecture, but one typical of his criticism. Similarly, the project designer for the fire station, Gerod Clark, said, "This is the first of our dumb buildings," by which he meant to indicate--as in "she's a dumb blonde"--that the building has rather basic materials but is flashily and sophisticatedly put together. Venturi used the phrase "dumb-sophisticated" for the fire station to show the contrasting and contradictory dualities that he wanted to express--the ordinary brick building in contrast to the mannerist billboard facade--again demonstrating a perverse twist of mind crackling with imaginative contradictions. Fire Station 4 is one of Venturi & Rauch's most tasteful, polished, and intricate works.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), pp. 190-92.

In the vein of historical allusions, Robert Venturi's aesthetic theory is full of references to historical precedent from the beginning. His Pearson House project (1957) is said to have "domes"; the Duke House renovation (1959) is said to have "a Louis XIV scale in the Louis XVI building." His firm reiterated sixteenth and seventeenth screens in the design of the facades of the Guild House, Fire Station Number 4 in Columbus, Indiana, as has been mentioned, and they alluded to oriental moongates in the Varga-Brigio Medical Building
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 262.



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