1969-70

Venturi and Rauch

Yale Mathematics Building Competition

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Having no faith in the efficacy of any single, universal, world transforming principle, Whitehead's obsevation that there is no reason to suppose order more fundamental than chaos would seem to appoximate his [ie, a famous architect] view; and this feeling for the empirical multiplicity of any given situation rather for any cosmic vision of a millennium also carries over into what seems to be anxiety to emancipate architecture from the grip of historicism--meaning not from the styles but from the very Germanic supposition that history, irrespective of persons, is an irresistible force, that obedience to it a moral imperative, that to deny the Zeitgeist is to invite catastrophe, and that the architect's most elevated role is to act as no more than the agent of necessity, as midwife for the delivery of historically significant form.

Given the arguments of reasoned disbelief, the procedure via collage and innuendo is, in principle, not to be faulted, but, if it is a procedure which can produce the most enviable results and also a genuinely Twentieth-Century discovery, the idea of the ironical juxtaposition of things taken out of context has, in general, been profoundly antipathetic to the conscience of the so-called Modern Movement; and, even though Le Corbusier was himself a great master of the architectural collage, the general bias of the contemporary architect's "morality" has contrived to inhibit the use of any technique so obvious and so rewarding.
Colin Rowe, "Robert Venturi and the Yale Mathematics Building" in Oppositions 6 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1976), p. 12, 13.

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.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 173-4.

In the Guild House apartments for the elderly, built in Philadelphia (1960-1965), Venturi & Rauch first combined all the elements that later became the hallmarks of their design: The building adopts the idiom of the everyday, ordinary red brick apartment house--an acceptance of our pop reality and the neighboring buildings--and combines it with historical allusions. In plan and massing the structure resembles the entrance porticos of mannerist architecture. In the street-front facade, which is no higher than the rest of the roof line but which has two vertical slits like crenelations, the center portion has the effect of a parapeted screen of red brick atop a white brick base. This base, the main entry, is Venturi's first architectural billboard with oversized, purposely clumsy lettering on a white field. As another historical allusion, the entry reiterates becolumned porticos: whimsically, a single polished-granite column is placed in the middle, as if blocking a large entry, although the entry is actually composed of two small doors flanking the false, nonstructural cylinder; above, a series of balconies, topped by an arched window to a recreation room, suggests a monumental gateway to palatial residences of old. All the facades are sensitively composed by fenestration of different square and horizontal shapes, many of them oversize double-hung windows that recall the ordinary apartment house idiom. This attention to fenestration is a design activity of Venturi and Rauch's that reaches a culmination in the skillfully windows punched, like a key-punch card, in the firm's Mathematics Building for Yale (1970)
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), pp. 188-90.


1996.10.07
Quondam - V&R
...the house in Absecon. ...group elevation of all the domestic architecture. ...a composite 3-d grouping of houses. ...the Canton, Ohio buildings, as well as maybe the Yale Mathematics building.



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