The Decade of the Diagonal
Louis Kahn's Goldenberg house project (1959) shows strong diagonals.
Philip Johnson said, "There is a love of the 3:1 angle. All modern buildings, with the English as the leaders, are using either 45º or 60º angles--flaring out at the top or coming together like a pyramid. The breakup of the International Style came not only with Kahn, but especially with English architects, who use angles to splay out over the top of the building--the arbitrary 45º angle."
Diagonals were seen in the space frames of 1960s architecture. Louis Kahn's 1961 projects for a new Philadelphia City hall tower was a kind of vertical space frame of multiple diagonals that seemed incomprehensible, although its imagery was unforgettable.
Robert Venturi's Chestnut Hill house (1962) had already used a diagonal entry plan "to relate to directional space."
Berkeley art historian Spiro Kostof called it "raging diagonalism," Jaquelin Robertson called it "diagonalosis." To the supermannerist architects from Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Yale, the 45º angles that project from a building as monitors or snouts, wedges or slices, were called "zips" or "zaps"; at Penn they talked of "zoots" and "zots"--one being the males shape and the other the female; in California the 45º angle wall was often called a "zootwall." These produced explosive and joyful spatial experiences in many cases, but as often, the diagonals produced tight, pinched, squeezed spaces that were more painful than liberating. They had become a favorite motif that was early accused of being faddish but not so easily resisted by architects. It was clear, however, that the diagonals of the Supermannerists enforced movement through space, as the work of the early Mannerists had done.
Robert Venturi's best-known permissively spontaneous work is the main stair of the Chestnut Hill house (1962). It runs between the fireplace and the front door and accommodates itself both to the fixed fireplace form on the one side and to the needs of the front door on the other side, for more generous width. Consequently, the stair ends up as a special "nonformalized" shape that was spontaneously induced by the conditions of its surroundings; its form is determined by the interstice between the two walls. In the same house, the rain leader that plunges haphazardly across the facade, does so, Venturi said, because "Life is like that," adding that there cannot be a single order to cover everything because there will always be something that won't fit.
The architectural ambiguity achieved through complexity was first clarified--if that is possible--by Robert Venturi in his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. There Venturi acclaims an "architecture based on the richness and ambiguity of modern experience." He devotes his third chapter to ambiguity, which he considers the primary element of the architecture he acclaims. He points out that "oscillating relationships, complex and contradictory, are the source of the ambiguity and tension characteristic to the medium of architecture." He sets up ambiguities by accepting "duality" as an outlook--"both/and" not "either/or." The calculated ambiguity of expression," he continues, "is based on the confusion of experience . . . This promotes richness of meaning over clarity of meaning." In this discussion Venturi draws correspondences between ambiguity in painting--in Abstract Expressionism, in Op art, and in Pop art--and he relates ambiguity in architecture to ambiguity in literature, as explained by such critics as T. S. Eliot, Cleanth Brooks, and William Empson, whose Seven Types of Ambiguity (1947) was so pivotal to literary criticism. Venturi was equally pivotal to modern architectural criticism, in proclaiming, "The variety inherent in the ambiguity of visual perception must once more be acknowledged and exploited." What he formulated in writing, he and his contemporaries expressed in buildings throughout the decade.
In a decade of ever increasing respect and understanding for psychology, this kind of reversal became a basic tool. Psychologists advised that if we react strongly against something, we had better examine the cause of our feelings. Robert Venturi said, similarly in Learning from Las Vegas, "Learn from what you don't like." In the past decade this stepping back to a position of detachment so that one can reverse his views or feeling created a dichotomy somewhat equivalent to the "dissociation of sensibility" that T. S. Eliot attributed to the culture of the seventeenth century. It was a logical aesthetic extension of the conflict between culture and technology, between art and science, between business and culture. The perverseness of Camp was on of the dissociated attitudes that developed.
Venturi's renovation of Mom's Restaurant in Philadelphia into Grand's (1962) was also early architectural Pop. Venturi used common things in uncommon ways. He said, "In keeping with the budget and character of the place, we tended to use conventional means and elements throughout in a spirited way, so that the common things took on new meaning. This was also a reaction to the overdesigned 'modern' fixtures typically available today." Their conventional means were industrial lights, bentwood chairs, old-looking high-backed booths, and exposed air-conditioning ducts.
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.
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). As a final Pop art symbol of our age, "and of the aged who spend much of their time watching TV at the Guild House," as Venturi said, the first designed a nonfunctioning gold-anodized television antenna that is placed as the crowning heraldic emblem atop the arched ceremonial portal.
The effect of Guild House is unsettlingly ambivalent. It clearly presents a realistic acceptance of the everyday fact and occurrence of ordinary contemporary building, and this seems a straightforward, direct, and honest approach to our urban environment. Yet it also includes motifs of earlier, more monumental and pretentious architecture in an attempt to symbolize the residential pride of its elderly occupants; this is an intellectual overlay. What this blend of ordinary mediocrity and monumental pomp creates, therefore, is a singular and tensioned response.
As Venturi described his firm's Football Hall of Fame project of 1967-1968, it is really a building-board.
"The front is made out of one of those flashing light board systems. And you enter in a really sexy way--up ramps and through an entry door that is the shape of a football. Behind that is a long nave with chapels in ranks like a giant Italian villa [basilica?]. There is a hierarchy of the football saints; great projections and movies on the vaulting of the nave show the great football plays, and in the chapels are relics like those of saints. Here they would have the sweatshirt of Knute Rockne--the actual object that is reflected in the movies on the vaulting and on the front, electric billboard."
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.
Architects and critics not in sympathy with Venturi's theories found his allusions and devises a wicked acceptance of their own rejected taboos. And his sense of wry yet scandalizing humor is using the terms boring, ordinary, dumb, banal, and ugly about his own designs continued to confuse and provoke public and professionals alike as well as to further the obscurity and inaccessibility of his design intentions.
Camp versus Pop
Much of Robert Venturi's theory seemed as perverse and Camp in the 1960s as it seemed startling and new. Venturi acclaimed the decorated shed, yet that is what the neohistorical architects of the 1950s were blamed for creating--decorative screens around Bauhaus buildings. Ironically, Nikolaus Pevsner's first sentence in his Outline of European Architecture (1943) is "A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture." He continued, "Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal." So when, twenty years later, Venturi called Rheims Cathedral "a decorated shed," it was a potently perverse twist. He said it at a time when we used to decry the false front--as in a typical western-frontier nineteenth century--as "facade architecture."
Venturi demonstrates his witty sense of paradox in an exhibition of his firm's work at Philadelphia's Art Alliance in 1968. There, besides wall-mounted drawings and photographs of the firm's work, projected slides were juxtaposed of adjacent walls, and other signs and images were superimposed on the projections. Among contradictory pairs of slides were: a commercial strip of gas stations with a forest of attenuated columns supporting vacuum-formed logo signs and, in contrast, the multicolored court of lions in the Alhambra; Rome's populated Spanish Steps contrasted with a full American parking lot.; Perpendicular Gothic fan vaulting as against the multiple parallel lines of a neon sign; Archaeological ruins next to the parking lots and signs of Las Vegas; the arcade of the Doge's Palace in Venice seen adjacent to the piers of a freeway; and finally, a spaghetti tangle of roadways contrasted with the repetitive arches of the Baptistry at Pisa. These historical-contemporary, European-American juxtapositions--possible only since "the museum without walls" of photography--showed Venturi accepting a wider range of our visual environment as being comparable and evidently occupied by the same animal--man. It was an open-minded, inclusive, realistic view of the actualities of the status quo; it was novel and iconoclastic. But although it had strong meaning, it was essentially a comic approach.
It was as whimsical, humorous, and perversely imaginative to think that the architecture of Las Vegas and of Levittown were valid areas for investigation, as Denise and Robert Venturi did. They were right, but it was still a campy idea. In January 1969, "LLV," written in red neon, hung just inside the exhibition space of Yale's Art and Architecture Building. It signaled the Venturi's student research and urban planning problem called "Learning from Las Vegas," which was subsequently published in book form in 1972. Charts, maps, diagrams, and photographs hung on every wall; from the ceiling, hung boomerang-shaped, guillotinelike maps in the configuration of Las Vegas' Route 91--"the archetype of the commercial strip." All was reflected in the silver vinyl of Project Argus, which sprawled diagonally across the space. In attendance, with student and faculty, was a star-studded list of guests chosen from those interested in Pop architecture, with or without Pop architects. What was presented Robert Venturi called "a new kind of urban environment that simply sprawls from the social and commercial needs of contemporary life." One study, "Activity Patterns," used color-coded maps to spot the locations of gambling casinos, wedding chapels, and food stores; another research project, "User Behavior," dealt with the iconography of parking lots, with "vehicular behavior," and with the inadequacy of directional signs in herding motorists into the desired parking patterns. Others, such as "Communication System and Anatomy of Signs," dealt with the scale, visibility, and construction of Las Vegas' flashing bubbling neon supersigns. There were also some spectacular slide shows and films, including one three-screen film of the Las Vegas strip seen while driving up and down it by day and then by night; and another film taken while flying over the casino with their outrageously joyous signs.
One observer called it a Beaux Arts presentation of the most meticulous character, and it did seem, in fact, like presenting measured drawings of outhouses. In that respect, the choice of subject matter and the high seriousness of presentation were campily witty. Yet one substantive benefit was immediately apparent: the investigation opened our eyes to a strong, vital environment in our society that had largely been ignored. The investigation was also, according to Venturi, a step forward, "getting some imagery and inspiration from commercial architecture as early modern architects looked to industrial architecture for inspiration." In this subject matter, it was unquestionably Pop.
Venturi has been called the Andy Warhol of architecture theory, and for this reason the work of Venturi & Rauch is often called Pop--a designation that is not always accurate. I think the camp aspects of Warhol's work are overlooked here. When Venturi & Rauch's work has architectural allusions to our popular "undesigned," commercial, or ordinary world--to gadgets, to roadways, to Las Vegas, or to Levittown--it is clearly Pop. At other times, however, their allusions to art history or to oriental elements--such as the moongate--have nothing to do with Pop. Surely, the allusions themselves should be distinguished from that artistic turn of mind that flips the coin as a means of revealing a subject. This mentality verges more on Camp than on Pop, although the two are similar. When Venturi urges acceptance of bigger billboards, while most others are trying to get rid of them (or at least to cluster them), he is flipping the coin so that we will not overlook whatever values there may be in them and in pop roadway imagery and communication. The content is Pop, but the attitude is Camp.
Venturi showed another kind of perversity in his books Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas by printing numerous illustrations no larger than postage stamp. There is logic in this miniature recall, but it was certainly perverse, in view of the glorious four-color bleed photographs that were the backbone of most picture books, for the Venturis to include many photographs of Las Vegas less than five-sixteenths of an inch square.
When Venturi uses dumb to mean sophisticatedly direct, he is demonstrating a perverse, camp twist of mind that is crackling with imaginative and witty contradictions. Venturi's own theory of accepting dualities--"both/and" rather than "and/or"--was wittily one-upped by California artist William Wiley who claimed to "both for and against."
Robert Venturi, discussing his firm's Chestnut Hill residence in Complexity and Contradiction, explained, "The main reason for the large scale is to counterbalance the complexity. Complexity in combination with small scale in small buildings means busyness. Like other organized complexities here, the big scale in the small building achieves tension rather than nervousness--one appropriate to such architecture." Scale was a continuing discussion and investigation of Venturi & Rauch; notably in the Copley Square Competition Design (1966) and later in their ability to detach or dis-unify the symbolism of buildings from the structure.
The new approach to layering was an extension of Louis Kahn's continued search for "the problem within the problem." Jean Labatut had emphasized to his Princeton students that the image of a building is different at each dimension and scale: first only a dot on the landscape, then a building, then sublayers of increasing detail--"interweaving planes" as he called them. Kahn's theory of the architectural hierarchy, of served versus servant spaces--another view of layering--captured the attention of architects when it was put to work in his Richards Medical Research Building laboratories (1957-1960) at the University of Pennsylvania, where massive vertical towers of brick powerfully express air-intake and venting systems as well as other mechanical systems that support the laboratory spaces. These were vertical interstices showing clarity of separation. His double-walled embassy project for Angola (1959-1953) explored a similar kind of layering.
Interest in the spaces between things is a corollary to layering that is also seen in the development of interstitial floors in hospitals and laboratories--those floors reserved for mechanical systems to make the floors for people more adaptable to future change. Kahn's Salk Institute laboratories (1959-1965) in Torrey Pines, California, contain the most lavish and renowned intermediate mechanical floors, and hospital after hospital in the 1960s adopted this horizontal layering as insurance against rebuilding for future requirements and to accommodate adaptability to change.
Robert Venturi's early Pearson House project (1957) had a layered inner structure of "domes."
For the Philadelphia church of Saint Francis de Sales, Venturi & Rauch changed the focus from the original neo-Byzantine sanctuary to a new-liturgy arrangement by means of a kind of electric demolition (1968). As if they were making an editor's deletion on the statement of the original sanctuary, they literally drew a line through the old altar and its reredos, editing it out. That line is a cold cathode tube of light suspended on piano wire, ten feet above the church floor, following the gentle curve of the apse. The tube cancels out the old altar with the intensity of its electric light; yet the original statement can still be seen behind, as if in the distance.
This demolition is doubly literary in that, it is analogous to a deletion rather than being an actual one, and second, it alludes to literary or editorial procedures. In the "electric age" this is a pivotal example of the architecture of allusion. In addition, the result is a milestone of church art and a new church image. The decision to preserve the old altar was made by the architects because they felt that its jewel-encrusted craftsmanship should be retained as an expression of the church's historical continuity. That was a decision unlike the wiping away of historical ornamentation that was indulged in by the purgative "clean" designers of the 1950s. The architects also used the line of electric demolition to focus on the new furnishings of the new sanctuary. "The shape of the magic line cathode," as Venturi called it, is not the only element that defines the new sanctuary, of course, but it is the most supermannerist of the church's innovations. As other furnishings, the congregation required a lectern and a priest's chair in addition to the freestanding altar table. To match the new liturgy, the architects provided a completely new image for these furnishings. Three shiny objects of white plexiglass and white vinyl, with accents of yellow vinyl and plexiglass, are set amid the neo-Byzantine surroundings. The translucent soft-curved hard plastic panels and the soft hard-edged, wet-looking vinyl in a church look like Claes Oldenburg gone pious. The architects knew, as Venturi said, that they "could not get harmony through similitude" in these new furnishings because they could not afford, much less surpass, the richness of materials--marbles, jewels, and mosaics--that had been possible when the church was built in 1907. As a consequence, they sought "harmony through contrast." The plexiglass is similar to, yet contrasts with, the marble; the soft furniture contrasts with the usual church furniture yet has harmonious forms.
Unfortunately, that design image was too totally new for a large segment of the congregation of Saint Francis de Sales. Seven months after installation, "electric demolition" took on a double and sadder meaning when the congregation removed the cathode-tube light to a storage room. They thereby blindly demolished the architect's imaginatively allusive scheme, leaving only the acrylic and vinyl furniture intact.
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. An ancient oriental moongate in a modern occidental back fence signals the main entry to Venturi & Rauch's small medical office building of 1969 for Dr. George Varga and Dr. Frank Brigio in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The rest of the red brick building is plain, simple, unpretentious, and functionally direct. Urban planner Denise Scott-Brown Venturi says it looks "as if a Chinese restaurant rented space in a factory." Her comment is not intended as negative criticism. What the firm tries to achieve in its buildings, partner John Rauch says, is "to sex them up, just as restaurants do--but in the most inexpensive ways. In this case, we used scale to make it impressive." Instead of having a plain three-foot-by-seven-foot front door, the architects superimposed a symbolic, plum-red, thin wood screen with a circular opening as a means of gaining attention for the entry. A second arc, larger than the circular cutout, is overlaid on the screen "to imply a larger totality," the architects explain. Together, the two segments produce a linear tension, like a mammoth curled finger beckoning toward the door.
Besides this decorative symbolism, at the entry Venturi & Rauch applied some of their other motifs to the ordinary looking building. Diagonally sited on a suburban lot, the medical building also has its entry corner chamfered, as the other end was originally designed. Within the chamfered diagonal corner porch, the main entry behind the screen is in a zigzagging wall of white brick. The elevations show a calculated juxtaposition of voids of varying sizes: a giant fixed pane is tautly squeezed up high against the skinny roof line and crashes against the entry porch. Venturi's composition with fenestration, here as in his other buildings, creates a tension between contrasting sizes, between two scales, and gives the building an appearance of unusual depth for so thin a structure. Yet the historical oriental allusion is Venturi & Rauch's most kinkily whimsical and the most potently novel detail in the building.
Few houses support so much discussion and analysis in their first decade as Robert Venturi's house (1962) in Chestnut Hill, outside Philadelphia [sic]. The house is a simple-looking building on a suburban lot. Its overall form is that of a gabled and chimneyed cottage, but Venturi has twisted it around in plan as we have seen and put the entrance on the gable side. That north elevation is reminiscent of a detail of Blenheim Palace--the attic of the principal courtyard portico--one of the mannerist works of Sir John Vanbrugh that Venturi is so fond of. Like a new broken pediment, the two side pavilions are extended toward the center in plan, like a detail of historical architecture blown up to make an entire building for our domestic decade. The exterior is otherwise austerely sited, striped of podium and landscaping, like Palladian villas in Italy and England. Then, whimsically, the Palladian hallmark, the arched window, is alluded to by a tacked-on broken arch in wood trim, which presages the half-vault ceiling of the dining room. These means are used both to make historical allusions and also to use them perversely, campily, ironically, sardonically.
The front door, clearly situated at the center of the broken pediment, is nevertheless concealed, placed on the side with a diagonal "inflection" toward it, as Venturi says. Inside, the rectangular plan is spiked with diagonals, from the entry into other rooms and to the fireplace plan. Some of these angles are seemingly arbitrary, but lively and whimsical. The entry funnels one into the dining area, past the kitchen and past the adjacent stair to the second floor. The stair and kitchen walls are inflected like directional signals to lead occupants and to accommodate their movement. The house also rings variations on other supermannerist devises besides historical allusions and diagonals. The screen of walls, multilayered like three-dimensional facade architecture, can be seen in the front elevation, where they appear as superimposed on other screen that make up the elevations. And the painterly composition of the ordinary if irregular windows begin a direction that Venturi & Rauch developed more intricately in the Nantucket cottages fostered by the monumental explanations on historical analogy that the architect provided? Nevertheless, the historical analogy superimposes another scale of the mannerist age's ritualism into the personalized twentieth-century dollhouse. It is the superimposition of supermannerist superscale in one of its most intellectualized forms. Venturi as theorist traversed a complex argument of contradictory justification for the house that reflects more the wily inventiveness of his mind than the elaborateness of the house. And this can be said safely, since aestheticians recognize all design theory as ex post facto musing and rationalizing. Venturi explained the contradictions he expected everyone to find in the house. Its starkness elicited a cry that it was willful, ugly, and offensive. Its allusions and manipulations were greeted by others as cheerful, sprightly, fresh, and vital. Architecture critic Ellen Perry Berkeley said the house had "a serious whimsy, a rational ambiguity, a consistent distortion." We can add that it also has a studied chaos, a stark elaborateness, and a forced lightness.
Venturi had compared the Guild House facade with the Ch‚teau at AnÍt.
An early superimposition of color and graphic lettering in 1960s architecture occurred in Grand's Restaurant in Philadelphia, a university campus eatery designed by Venturi & Short in 1962, opened in 1963, and redecorated by the owners almost immediately, in 1964. On the long interior side walls of the restaurant, which were painted gray with white squares, pale, dull-yellow letters spelled out the name of the proprietor and his establishment--Grand's Restaurant. The painted design looked like four-foot-high stenciled letterings tied by a thin pink line at the top; it was repeated in mirror image on the opposite wall. No one used the term supergraphics at the time. Robert Venturi saw the lettering as having "the character of conventional stencils" consistent with the motif of conventional objects and materials used throughout the design. Yet the graphics, which superimposed double scale on the small dining space, were brought into the purest realm of three-dimensional supergraphics by being mirrored on the opposite wall, suggesting that the type was one solid block continuing from wall to wall.
What Ada Louise Huxtable wrote about the acceptance of Robert Venturi by the profession in 1971 could almost be applied to all the Supermannerists: "The profession is split down the middle--90 percent against." In the first five or so years those opposed insisted that "it will not last" and is "only a passing fad." Although in our age of acceleration of instant communications, instant understanding, and nearly an instant boredom and instant rejection, it is hard to know what is a substantial period of endurance; five- and ten-year increments in stylistic and technical developments may be our maximum expectancy.
As many critics and architects observed, "the large-scale projects of architects had more appropriate solutions than the smaller, where the overexuberance of the architect took over"; as Romaldo Giurgola said, "You cannot approach a large design project as a field for personal expression. Schools, campus planning, and urban design represent the best contemporary architecture because they represent the real motivations of our time. it is not so much a matter of their being large scale, but rather that they meet the real needs of today."
Venturi's firm has designed, though not yet built, major apartment and civic complexes, the Mathematics Building at Yale, and has plans for other large projects. Venturi and his partners continue to reinforce their interest in signs and logos and communication, and in the non-architectural aspects of popular roadway aesthetics. They continue to raise questions about the line between the art form they aim to create and the vernacular from which they draw inspiration. That line is so fine that the crossing of the boundary sometimes appears to achieve no major change. "The real difference between Pop art and Pop architecture," Peter Blake has said, "is that the former is detached from its context and becomes a form of social criticism; whereas the latter--Pop architecture--merges with or melts into a deplorable social situation and implies acceptance." Some people feel that Venturi is saying we should be satisfied with what we have because we cannot do any better. Venturi claims to be showing a new way.
And the "cardboard corbu" school is heading toward greater stylization and revivalism of Le Corbusier's principles, except in the case of larger-scale work such as Richard Meier's Twin Parks Northeast housing (1973) in the Bronx, which appears to have adopted the stripped status quo or undesigned vernacular of ordinary speculative apartment buildings. Here, Meier and Venturi meet on the common ground of Venturi's Brighton Beach competition entry and the Yale Mathematics Building, although the New York Five seem loath to admit it.