Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi

The Bicentennial Commemoration 1976


"The Bicentennial Commemoration 1976"
Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi
The Architectural Forum, October 1969

Communication architecture
Communication is particularly important when we stress social innovation over architecture. We recommend, because of the social tasks, the use of modest buildings with big signs. An Expo based on interaction of people in meeting places spread over several cities could look a little low. It would resemble the long, low buildings of the roadside commercial landscape and the suburban supermarket, and we architects shouldn't fight it. Rather, we should do as they do, and augment our architecture with signs; great signs, over the heads of the crowd, welcoming them in many languages and in visual language, orienting them in the vast space of the fair ground, beckoning to them on the freeway and subway. Signs saying LOVE and LEARN, signs describing the exciting process going in the modest buildings below. Signs designed by artists, engineers, sign-makers and school children, but located carefully with due regard for the science of perception. Competitions could be held for the design of copy and new signing systems. We might do more for urban beautification through the development of sign technology and a public interest in signing than by antibillboard legislation. And architecture shouldn't try to compete. The contortions we indulge in, in our architecture for the sake of civic grandeur or commercial splendor, are an ironic distortion of our functionalist doctrine. We eschew applied decoration--that's not modern--but we deeply distort whole buildings for the sake of expression. Leave that to the signs! "Pure" architecture just isn't suited to be a medium of expression on the freeway or on the freeway through our lives. Don't strive to make Expo architecture be what it can't be today. But still allow the individual nations and organizations their garish autonomy because their pavilions are, in their own way, sign posts. And let there be statues of Lincoln, Lenin or Lumumba 27 stories high--inflatable.

The public structure
In all this cacophony, the public structure--what the U. S. and the host cities have to offer--should be the controlling element. The public spaces and public services--movement systems, streets, waterways, refreshment and service centers--should be tough, solid ample, familiar, conventional and kickable. They are the friendly base for all the variety. Their design and spacing should be simple, consistent and understandable. Their signs and symbols should sharply contrast with the cultural and commercial communications.

What else should be in the public domain in addition to utilities and services? Perhaps sculptured terrains, shaped to take the baroque flow of moving crowds and to connect with the private and public-private realms. Perhaps the contribution of the host city to the public domain should be weather protection and air conditioning against our eastern summer. Between the public and the private should lie and inbetween realm, for the meeting places and joint ventures between us and other nations.

The relations between all three realms should be clear and clean, the divisions well demarcated, the entrances well signed. No one should get stuck for an entrance or lose the exit.

Authors' note:
We owe much in the development of our ideas to Mr. Tom Wolfe (who coined the phrase "electrographic architecture"), to Mr. David A. Crane, to members of the Philadelphia Bicentennial International Exposition Planning Group, and to the Philadelphia Citizens' Committee to Preserve and Develop the Crosstown Community, and all their advisors.

The gossamer Expo
So we propose a Commemoration strongly related to national social goals, whose physical form would be a set of social meeting places sited throughout the nation, and located at those natural points of meeting, the interchanges on the movement system; firmly based in a sturdy public realm and linked by the national communications media, both inward and outward, with all the people of the world.

We advocate, because of the social tasks, the use of modest buildings with big signs. These signs would make evident and expressive the important social processes happening within. And they would make, with the movies, the sound and light and the moving people a gossamer, fairy-tale, mixed-media, electrographic Expo, every bit as beautiful as the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower.




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