1967-69

Venturi and Rauch

Lieb House

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The distinction between background buildings and foreground buildings has categorized architects as well as their designs for several decades. Commonly, foreground buildings are defined as those designed to stand out from their surroundings and to make prominent monuments of themselves and, most people suspect, of their architects. Those called background buildings attempt to blend in with their surroundings, usually by employing current design motifs, and they modestly aim for contextual continuity of neighborhood. With the Lieb House (1969), Venturi & Rauch turned the self-effacing social and neighborly aim of background architecture into an offensive tactic on New Jersey's Long Beach Island. Not content with merely using current vernacular beach architecture for their materials, the architects, instead, employed the boxiness of conventional beach houses along with a historical, Camp revival of 1950s two-toned coloring in asbestos-shingle sheathing. Contradictorily, the Lieb House is unprepossessing and prominent at the same time because it uniquely raises the anonymous "builder's house" into the realm of an art form. Venturi, with a typical but always unexpected inversion, singled out this direction as the "cult of the ordinary," a theory he clearly explained in an analysis of the mammoth Co-op City apartment complex in the north Bronx, and which his firm demonstrated in the design for the Brighton Beach apartments competition and in the Yale Mathematics Building.
Venturi's theory is that in a setting of ugly and ordinary builders' houses, a setting leveled of topographical features--hills, trees, vegetation, foliage--any new design that sets out to be "pretty" or "good design" only points up the ugliness of the landscape. So Venturi & Rauch made the Lieb House a building "which was, in its way, ugly like the landscape of telephone poles and wires and the constant rhythm of these little houses plopped on their sides," Venturi said.
"We were building this in terms of what the urban planning at the beach is. We're not building it for what we think it should be . . . Most people design in terms of not what is but what should be . . . it's not like spraying a spray of perfume when you're in a pigsty. I look at this building and I see it next to the poles; the poles and the building look okay together. This building purposely is a kind of bold little ugly banal box," he could say proudly of the Lieb House, leaving some architects amused by the intellectual twist, leaving others incredulous at his candor and pride. As familiarity with the house grew, the bold-scaled boxiness stood out against the surrounding pitched roofs; its two-toned superstripes were a proclamation amid the vernacular; the form of its fragmented semicircular window on the west side and the scale of the address number 9 at the front entry was, even Venturi admitted "high-fashion architecture." "The Lieb House," Denise Scott-Brown Venturi explained, "is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. It is like the landscape and not like the landscape--ugly and beautiful. It is the tension between these opposites. We are saying it is like everything else; we admit that. It is like everything else in the way that the Pop artists make something like a Campbell's Soup can. It is like, but isn't like. See what I mean?"
However constantly interesting the mental agility of the Venturis' doublethink aesthetic theory--and that may be the most valuable contribution they make to architecture--the Lieb House is a perfectly workable, no-nonsense house, with a straightforward acceptance of the sequential functions of beach house living. The washer-drier is downstairs between the front entrance and the sand-shower room; the upstairs living area is entered through the kitchen. Those are the relationships to daily realities that make the house a functional as well as an aesthetic expression of the ordinary. Critics who ask if that is a good thing ask a superfluous question. The quest of art is no longer to show us the beauties of nature but to show us the realities and richness of life--to show us new visions of existence. In that respect, the Lieb House helps us to discover the truth of our daily "ordinary" existence.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 173-5.


Lieb House [1969]," Denise Scott-Brown Venturi explained, "is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. It is like the landscape and not like the landscape--ugly and beautiful. It is the tension between these opposites. We are saying it is like everything else; we admit that. It is like everything else in the way that the Pop artists make something like a Campbell's Soup can. It is like, but isn't like. See what I mean?"

2005.10.12 17:46
Jimmy Venturi's new website...
...like, is it all conscious or sub-conscious, or osmotic even. I like it too because the 'artifacts', the designs, speak for themselves within a much larger architectural continuum.
...and seeing No. 9 again here made me think of the early Gehry three-in-a-row houses in Santa Monica(?), and then a lot of the "glass/wall boxy" houses designed now. And a couple of weeks ago the "pitched roof house" thread and seeing the Vanna Venturi House among the contemporary stuff also brought a perception to my eyes that wasn't there before.
I'll go for the continuum idea as to where architecture is really at.


2009.01.29 - 2009.03.17
Venturi's Lieb (No. 9) House to be moved (or demolished)
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2009.02.02 13:07
Venturi's Lieb (No. 9) House to be moved (or demolished)
the ugly and the ordinary
the extraordinary
both deserve an appropriate response
and then/now there's museumification
1993:
Robert Venturi, "Some Agonizing Thoughts about Maintainance and Preservation Concerning Humble Buildings of the Recent Past"
1998:
"Do you know the BASCO sign is now gone?"
"No! Do you know where it is now? We'd like to save it."
1999.10.06
A typed letter signed by Robert Venturi, wherein he laments the demolition of his BASCO 'baby', is currently up for auction at eBay
2000:
"What's the address of the Nurses' Office in Ambler?"
"It's better now if you just look at the pictures."
[found the building and took my own pictures anyway]
2005:
Best Building demolished; flower pattern porcelain enamal panels saved, many now in private and museum collections
2009.01/02
Lieb House; another chapter in the architecture of removement.


2009.02.02 14:37
Venturi's Lieb (No. 9) House to be moved (or demolished)
I'd say that the Lieb House is now a museum peice. That's how the building's context has now changed. Villa Savoye hasn't moved, but its context has changed as well. It hasn't been a residence in many years, and it too is now a museum peice.


2009.02.02 15:09
Venturi's Lieb (No. 9) House to be moved (or demolished)
What may be lingering in the background is the notion that the Lieb House was somehow site-specific, and now, without its site, that the building is thus diminished. I'd say the Lieb House was/is much more generic than site-specific. And that is where its historical significance comes from--a thoughtful modern design in the generic idiom.


2009.02.06
Venturi's Lieb (No. 9) House to be moved (or demolished)

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