Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown and Louis I. Kahn

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PR: Did you quarrel at all with him about his --
DSB: I argued with him all the time. But he seemed to like it. Then, also, he showed us, when I was his student in his class, the Salk Center. And it had, at that point, three different groupings of buildings, that later got much reduced in scope, and rather tighter in its design. And he'd had the houses for the different scientists mid-way on the path on the way to the labs. I said, "Why would you put them there? If you were a scientist, wouldn't you want to have your house at the edge of the cliff, looking out at the ocean?" And later I found they got moved there. I just felt they were no place, in the middle of the road, on the way in. I felt very strange that he had used my idea. And then I also -- some other things that he appropriated of mine -- I was the one who said I thought buildings should be kickable. I had seen the kids in the School of Fine Arts, sitting against the parapet that looked down into the jury space, kicking against the wall. And the wall had a pattern of black foot marks on this white wall, all the way around, and I thought, "Well, they're going to do that, and it's not even bad that they do that. That's life. But the building should only get mellower when it's kicked." And then I developed a whole theory of kickable buildings in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. And Lou, at that stage, was talking about institutions, and I said, "Institutional buildings should be kickable," and he began talking about institutional buildings should be kickable. I also said that architects always put a chapel somewhere in their building, and he picked that up, too. These were kinds of ideas that Lou would like. I was able to get him to be on the jury -- on my juries -- too, which was nice for me. I asked him to be on the jury for my urban design students, you see, who were not architects at all. And I had a lovely time giving them projects which would test their creativity without their graphic ability, because graphic ability they didn't have much of. The AA had its -- did I tell you about this first project at the AA, called the "Shipwrecked Architect?"
PR: No.
DSB: Well, the idea was when you first went to the AA, and you could not draw yet, they said, "Imagine yourself shipwrecked on a desert island. And you're not a primitive person. You are yourself, with all of your sophisticated needs, and what you manage to salvage from the boat, and then that's all. But you have sophisticated design needs. Build yourself a primitive hut." And they didn't produce drawings. They produced models. Well, I produced a wonderful -- studios should be like play. You should play when you design. So I said, "Let's pretend that we all went for a conference. We were going for a conference to a faraway land, a developing area, called "Developing Area." And that we got stranded. It's a group of us, now." It wasn't an architect -- one person, one family -- but a little group of people, traveling to go to this conference. "And you got stranded on a desert island, which has one of three climates," and I gave them the three different climates. And I spoke as the leader of the expedition. I made my talk rather stilted, but old-fashioned and eloquent, and I was an elderly person, describing the situation we find ourselves in. And again, they had to make a model. Not drawings. But I said that there were certain kinds of wild animals there, of a certain height, that could get up over certain kinds of walls. They managed to salvage certain things. There was a hill, which could be a look-out. I said, for us, the look-out would have an almost religious significance, because, boats passed once every six months, and you had to be able to signal to them. They produced things which were very much in the Lou Kahn mode, with the kind of religious look-out point. The primitive shelter built for the first nights of the whole group, because they needed to hang together, then subsequently, incremental growth of pieces for different families, but there's still the big common room space. Lou loved it, and he was all over the thing with ideas of what you could do here and there and everywhere.

DSB: Yes. I started teaching, and up at the other end of the studio, were the people I had been in the studio with the semester before. And there I was, down at the other end. And I was very scared for thirty minutes. And then within the first thirty minutes, I just knew that that's what I'd been doing all of my life. I'd been teaching while syill a student in Lou's class. This last semester, teaching at Harvard, I was watching one of the young women -- Maria -- and she doesn't know it, but she was doing a good job of teaching next to me. She was teaching and I was teaching.
PR: This is a project at Harvard, just in the past year?
DSB: 1989. The beginning of this year. It ended at the beginning of this year. It was last fall's studio. I was watching Maria, and I was thinking, "You're a teacher, and you don't know it," and I was remembering how I was teaching in Lou's class when I was a student there. And I was giving everyone crits. And then they got A's and I didn't. And that, maybe, is the roll of a teacher. So within the first thirty minutes, I knew that I took to it like a duck to water. And I still teach here. And I'd been teaching before because I'm an older sister.

DSB: Now, coming back to the Penn situation. When I started to teach at Penn, it was because I saw a class that needed teaching and didn't have a teacher. And that was the introduction to urban design. It had a sort of junior person doing it. So when it came to be the end of my time at Penn -- I had taken that Kahn studio, and I'd done the last semester I needed to do -- I said to Dave Crane, who was my student advisor, "Could I teach that course?" And he and Bill Wheaton and Holmes Perkins cooked up for me that I would teach that course the one semester, and at the same time, do a little bit of sort of ordering and organizing of some landscape architectural material that McHarg needed done. And that the next semester, I would work with Dave Crane on the New City Studio. And for that I would be paid the princely sum of six thousand four hundred dollars. And I thought I was in heaven. This work didn't even seem like work. It just seemed wonderful. And I set up these courses. I think last time I described the course material that I taught. And then life went on like that, and as I say, I got to teach my own studio because of the fact that I really couldn't work with Dave Wallace. And then I, in 1960, formed a friendship with Bob. Did I tell you that story? I probably did. About the [Frank] Furness building.
PR: Yes.
DSB: Yes, I did tell you that one. We used to date, and we'd have dinner together. And by the end, I'd get him into my class to give a crit to my civic design students. But this was all earlier than that. I saw that the assistant that Bob had had to teach his seminar, along with his course, was leaving. And I said, "I'd like to do that, as well." I was doing the seminar and the course for the theories of architecture, city planning and landscape architecture. Why not do the seminars for the other? And I've described those to you. Those seminars. So then I was teaching introduction to urban design and the theories course in planning and architecture, and landscape architecture in the first semester. The New City Studio and the seminar for the theories course in architecture the next semester. Then they gave up teaching studio in planning. Paul Davidoff was one of the main protagonists of not teaching studio. Later he told me he thought studio was very important, and he's sorry he stopped it. But it meant that there was no introduction to urban design to teach the in-coming planning students. And I moved on to teaching the civic design students. So at that point, I gave them their introductory studio. This was when they had this great disappointment. They thought they were getting Lou Kahn, and they got me. So I had this little group of students to teach. By the way, when I started to teach the theories course, Bill Wheaton said, "There will be an extra thousand dollars for you." So now I was earning seven thousand four hundred dollars. Now, at a certain point, I began to think -- first of all, I think one of my students said, "You're not earning enough." And I began to do comparisons, and I asked Tony Tomazinis, who was the same year with me, and then when into teaching, as I did, how much he was earning, and he said, "Fourteen thousand dollars." Putting together a grant that they'd worked out for him -- research grant -- and his teaching, it was fourteen thousand dollars. And Bob Venturi was earning seven thousand dollars, but he was half-time. And I was full-time. I began to feel somewhat disaffected by this, and I decided that at this point, I didn't want to teach the theories course. It was only a thousand dollars, and I wanted to do some other things myself, instead. So I went to the Dean, and I said, "I don't want to teach this course," and he made a note of it. He apparently forgot.
PR: This is Holmes Perkins?
DSB: Holmes Perkins. Yes. I had been to the Dean about a few other things. I'd asked him if they could show the work of local artists in that central space that was in the old architecture building. His replies were, "Well, we just can't do that because of insurance," and "Oh, dear. Am I being a fuddy-duddy?" He'd had other talks with me. Strange talks, I thought, like telling me about the likely future of someone like Tim Vreeland. He said, "There are some rough spots with him, but they'll rub off." I later realized he was telling me that, not to share confidences about Tim Vreeland that I thought he shouldn't be sharing, but to warn me that I might not get re-appointed after three years. He thought I may not know about the system of tenure. But I wondered about that. And then I went to him to ask him if he could help Bob, who was starting his practice, get some work. And he said, no, he couldn't do that either. He said, "Bob shouldn't have started his practice yet. It's too soon for Bob to start." And, of course, we all knew that he had recommended Geddes for the Towne School [of Engineering Building]. Or we thought we knew. Later, Holmes made a big point of telling me it had been a sort of a fluke, that he hadn't really recommended him.
PR: Well, he certainly recommended Kahn for the Richards Building. Kahn was, of course, an older architect.
DSB: No. It was not quite like that. I think the situation was, "I come to teach at your university. I have to get a building, as well."

DSB: But I still think that kind of marking sign, you need locational consistency, as well as the signage. So that was sad for me. And I could sense an undertow of things being against me. The students in civic design were suddenly mad at me. I'd been inconsiderate enough as to talk about directive and non-directive teaching. And they thought I was talking about child-rearing, and I got told by a very angry student, "We are not children." And then one of the students there who's wife was an architect -- this was the sad part -- said to me, "Well, you've done very well for a woman." It really horrified me. So it was a kind of a sad atmosphere around me at that time, too. And then another very sad thing happened -- By the way I should tell you something about Aldo [Giurgola] and Lou -- Another very sad thing happened. I was trying to get funding for my book, and Bob Mitchell had helped me work out a proposal and showed me how to do it, and how you do the arithmetic of it, and allow the overhead, and all of that. And we were not getting success.

DSB: But that's not -- then going on from there. Ever since, around Penn, this has happened to me. Another thing is I discovered when they replaced me, they replaced me with Larry Goldfarb. I also found one of my C grade students came in, and he had a job, and I was then earning seven thousand four hundred dollars, and he was earning nine thousand dollars. A C grade student. So, when Larry Goldfarb replaced me, they paid him nine thousand four hundred dollars. Two thousand dollars more than me, as he came in to teach the same course I was teaching. And I thought, "This is profoundly unfair." But when I got back here, I found that any time the Philadelphia School was mentioned, my name was not in it. And any time they talked about the great old days, of all the people that we had, I was left out. At the same time, Holmes got hold of me and said, "It's the duty of you and Bob to teach at Penn. It's your duty." And I said to him, "You didn't help us. Why do we have to help you?" And then various other things started to happen around Lou, which we can come to later. But meanwhile, I once wrote an angry letter to -- first of all, this happened a few years ago -- there was continuing the sense Penn doesn't even recognize I was around. They've just sent me a letter which moved me very much. It came from Darrel Conybeare. He was my student in the urban design program. He's Australian. I later helped him get a job with the Californian, Charles Eames. Charles Eames found my students very suitable for his programs. Any student I had taught, he was happy to look at. He found them very mature. They were useful for other things. Well, Darrel Conybeare wrote a letter, now, when he got the book of the hundred years of the Penn centennial, and he said how well he remembered Lou Kahn. He said, "But it was especially Denise Scott Brown that helped me find my way in architecture and in my future career." And Felice Naide sent me that letter. But, you see, Penn hasn't noticed that I had any important role there, at all, in anything they mention any of the times they speak about who were the great people there, where have they gone. When Holmes Perkins writes to say, "It's been a great pride to him to realize that all of his people went off to great schools," he never mentions me in that.

PR: You said you wanted to mention two things, I think, in this era. You said you had something to say about Aldo, Giurgola I assume, and Lou Kahn.
DSB: Yes. I was at a faculty meeting where Aldo had been asked to design the exhibit for a faculty exhibition. It was going to be in the main -- I forget what it was called, that space -- main jury space.
PR: Is this in Hayden Hall?
DSB: Yes. In Hayden Hall, as it's now called. It wasn't called that then. It was called the Architecture Building. In the main jury space, that open court space. Aldo had produced this design. He presented it to the faculty, and Lou was just damning about it's, sort of, being too bitty, not a big idea, not well thought through -- too fumbling, fiddling. And also, other people's ideas, he was also damning about. I thought of something else I should tell you as well, and now I've just forgotten it. I better go on with this one. So Lou made everyone feel very, very bad. And after the meeting -- oh, yes. It's about the Architecture Building. After the meeting, I went up to Lou and I said, "Why did you have to be so cruel? Look, you've made them all feel inadequate. Look at all of their faces." Everyone was like that. [makes a face, laughs] "Just look at all of their faces. Why did you have to speak that way?" And he said, "I don't know, Denise. I'll tell you what. I just won't come to faculty meetings," and sure enough after that, he didn't come to faculty meetings. [laughs] It was funny because I had written somewhere -- I wrote it after -- the difference between Lou's kind of rebelliousness and the Smithsons' was that the Smithsons would never have come to faculty meetings. Lou did. Lou came and argued. That was the difference between them. I think I have some funny insights about the Architecture Building and how it came to be built. And that is, when the question became one of leaving our building -- and we didn't want to leave. I had this wonderful office there, at the back, looking out over the lawn at lawn height.
PR: This is leaving the building for the new Meyerson Hall?
DSB: Well, it wasn't built yet. The question was were we going to get a new building? And there were the people -- the SOSs and the SOBs -- Save Our Space and Save Our Building. And there was a revolt. The students had a revolt. We were in the faculty meeting and you could hear the sound of a procession coming down Smith Walk. There was a little red MG coming down Smith Walk, with all the students behind, and I knew what it felt like to be in the Bastille with the crowds all around. The faculty were too scared to come out, and didn't come out and talk to the crowds. But anyway, the university prevailed. Then the students said that it had to be a building done by Kahn. Well, Holmes came with the news that Martin, Noble and someone had been appointed.
PR: Martin, Stewart & Noble? Or whatever it was in those days.
DSB: Martin, Stewart & Noble. Yes. And, you know, that was a time when there was a pipeline to the GSA for five different architects who were the Penn architects, and it was all very political. It was probably based on contributions, and because the GSA was involved, you got their architects. So Holmes came with the information that Martin of Martin, Stewart & Noble, had offered to stand down in favor of Lou. And Holmes said that Martin was a gentleman, but it was no use, because whatever happened, they weren't going to hire Lou because of the difficulties with Richards Medical Building. But meanwhile, several people -- Leon Loschetter and Tom Godfrey -- were doing designs for the site. I think asked to by Holmes. And Lou also was doing a design for the site. I went to Holmes, one of my times, again, of bearding the lion in the den, and said, "Won't you fight for Lou?" I came away with the impression that he wasn't going to fight for Lou. But not only that. Holmes asked me what Lou was thinking of doing on the site. So Lou and Holmes weren't talking about it. I talked with Lou and he wanted an arcade and various other things. I could see Lou was beside himself with grief and anger about all of that. And I was, for a little bit, a go-between there. It was very astounding to me to see them. They just weren't talking. Then, finally, that building was built, and I formed the opinion -- I'd also been to Holmes to talk with him about the superblock, saying it shouldn't happen. And I'd given him ideas about what I thought should happen, which, ironically, is very much what they're trying to put back with the superblock now. And Holmes had been so defensive about it, that I thought he was in some way involved with the design. And sure enough, he was.
PR: He and Romanach were together involved in that.
DSB: Yes. And he was so defensive about the things I was saying, like, "Keep the buildings low, and wind them in and out around the existing buildings, and keep Locust Street going all the way through as a walk, and have academic and administrative uses at ground level there. And make courts." All the things they are thinking of now. And half of it would have been left from what was there now -- what was there then. But in the same way, I formed the opinion that Holmes was probably going into Martin, Stewart & Noble's office and telling them what to do in the Architecture Building. And it was actually going to be Holmes' building. And my theory is that it is really Holmes' design. And, in fact, the way those stairs don't work as you go upstairs, my theory is -- and it's just a fantasy, nothing more -- that the draftsman in charge said, "He's told me once too many times. He wants the stairs that way, he's going to get them that way," and didn't argue and just did it. And that's my feeling about what happened with that building. Now, I have no evidence for that. I just have a suspicion. [Tape Off/On] What did I learn from Kahn, or what did I and my students learn from Kahn? Kahn became woven into my life, and very easily. Coming from the Smithsons and the Brutalists, at that stage, it just sounded like continuing with those ideas. And then, because at that stage, he was also showing his students plans of Rome, of Roman buildings, and also Scottish castles -- it was a continuation of the excitement that I'd found in Europe, as well. The mixture between Dave Crane's kind of urbanism and then seeing those plans, and seeing them urbanistically, he helped me make a bridge -- as Summerson had done -- to developing an urban fabric, which was both made up of individually crafted parts, and a general order of space. And Lou helped with that. I think myself, too, that I found the Richards Medical Building, when I first went there, Miesian. And I had a big argument with Holmes about this. He said, "Not at all. One's in steel, and the other's in brick." And I said, "There's something about the Constructivism that Lou has used in his details, which reminded me of Carlo Scarpa in some ways, and also of Mies." It was much stronger than Scarpa, and, of course, it was in concrete, glass and brick, not in steel. But it was almost like jewelry. And then the notion of generic space, which I'd been finding interesting in Mies, and here it was again. And it applied to urbanism. Lou is so seeped into my blood in that way -- the way I look at drawing the order of the fabric of a city, for example -- that it's very difficult to, kind of, take it all out again. Paul Davidoff said something like, "I see what you see in Lou, Denise. He really does go back to basic beginnings. When he talks about man" -- I had this big argument with Lou about "man," long before feminism. I said, "At least in America you should learn to say 'men,' because America's a pluralist place." And Lou thought, and then he said, "Well, yes, I see what you mean. And that's very important. But then you lose something about the general about the individual." And Paul noticed these important back-to-the-beginnings of seeing an individual as an embryonic beginnings -- the excitement of embryonic beginnings. And, of course, I'd formed a great love of Paestum. Lou had that great love of that kind of primitive beginning, in that temple and in much else. And later Bob would say, "That's too easy to like." But I feel I shared that. It's not the superficial things, and it's not the pretentious things. The notion of form was very, very important, but it became pretentious, too. So, I think it's gone very deep in me, but it comes out in all of these things. And I think -- for example, we were looking at the Toulouse competition, which we're working on now, and the basic zoning of that plan that we've evolved -- which Lou would have called it's basic form -- came to me [looking at drawings] by looking carefully at the pressures that were coming from the city -- partly from the access points, and partly from the structure -- the tissue around it. I think that as I said it, Bob was also thinking it. We both thought the same thing. We both very quickly said, "No. This is what you really ought to try." The other architects were talking about putting blocks across the site in certain places. You'd have two blocks here, and they could be linked there. They dealt with objects. We dealt with a spine through the whole thing, to which objects of different shapes would accrete. And the basic stress diagram -- just what I'm talking about in Berlin -- we formulated pretty much together, although I verbalized it. Bob quickly said, "Yes. That is the way it should be. It's obvious that the bridge is here and this is here. Try this first, at any rate." I think some of that came from Lou. But it's not exactly. It's our minds and his were all very sympathetic to that, but I think Lou might have done the same thing. Sort of worked his way into the problem that way. Not by saying, "Here's a block of administration, here's a block of this."
PR: What about what I might call Lou's "rhetoric." His speeches -- one reads them, and they're full of sort of inspiring language about beginnings about things like --
DSB: You should ask Bob what he feels about that. I want to tell you what I feel, too. My feeling is that Lou talked and talked and talked and talked. And if you were with him for six months in his studio, you, in the end, understood most of it. And you could also learn to distinguish -- what is Lou off the top of his head, and trying his hand, unformulated -- not completely formulated thought; and what is something that's been winnowed to an essence and has truth and beauty. You could tell the difference between those. And some of it was pretentiousness. And some of it was sloppy thinking. And some of it just caught the spirit. I've written about this great debate that Lou and Tony Tomazinis had in a faculty meeting. They were shouting at each other. It was about research. Lou pooh-poohed research, and in the end, it had this wonderful situation where Tony yelled, "You can't do research by committee." And Lou yelled, "You can't do design by committee." [laughs] What was most precious to them. In the end, Lou said, "He has reverence for the book, and I for the building." It was very perceptive. It was winnowed thought again, after all. So, some of it was pretentious. Some of it was very, very thoughtful. And getting to essence is important. I don't know if Lou's rhetoric really helped get to essence. Maybe it helped him. Maybe it helped to hide some of his rather nearer at hand sources. And that is Bob's great problem with Lou. When Lou realized that Bob had fallen out with him, he was disturbed, and he came to me. As Holmes Perkins also sent a message to Bob through me, he'd never given Geddes, Brecher [Qualls and Cunningham] the Towne School [Univ. of PA]. Lou sent a message to Bob. I would not tell Lou why Bob was angry. I did say, "You've never helped him to get work." But that wasn't the only reason. But he said, "You know, I've never known where my next job was coming from." But we were told by people in New Haven that when Lou went to visit a city agency there, he said "Of course I would never put a television aerial on a building," and we thought that was not fair to say that. I said, "You haven't helped him find work," and Lou said, "Well, I've never known where my next building was coming from, so I never felt I could do that." And I can see that, particularly in retrospect, with all the problems we've had with getting buildings. Though we do help disciples to get work, when we can. We try to be -- we've tried to help in ways that Lou didn't help us. No one has helped us. No one has helped Bob, until Bill Bowen. But Lou sent this message through me to Bob. Lou said to Bob, "There is truth in Las Vegas." But we knew Lou could not follow us. Las Vegas was not primitive enough, and you don't always have to go back to first principles. And Lou produced a set of articulated buildings that probably over did the articulations. But I feel that Lou derived his grids subtlety from within. And I feel he didn't have the resources to know very well what to do about breaking the grid until Bob started to teach him. So that his later buildings, under the influence of Bob, do know where to have a system, and when to break the system, and how to break the system with inspiration. But he learned that from Bob, and he camouflaged that under rhetoric. At the same time, while I was studying with him -- if you look at the Richards Medical Labs, the entrance space is glorious, but it's part of the system. It's a space that Vince [Scully] called "truly tragic space." And I think that that's a wonderful description of it. But it is part of the system. And the only thing that's out of the system is the ventilation of the animal labs. And I feel that he was building an urban order there for a building that was too small for it. But, okay. That's been done before. You take too small a problem, because it's the one you have to hand. And that's some of the reasons why there have been functional problems with that building. But on an aesthetic level, his problem was that he wasn't able to find a way to break the system. And the breaks within the system is what makes glorious architecture -- the one and the other. But again, his system is much more derived from within, than his followers', who imposed theirs from on top. And you see, a lot of people have gone out into the field with the Lou Kahn vocabulary, who've had to change as they hit budgets. And, of course, budgets were not something that Lou hit very often.
PR: Right.
DSB: It would be a very interesting study to follow the best students from Lou's studio, and see what they've done over the last thirty-five years. So, maybe that's all we should do for the moment.
PR: Okay. [Tape Off/On]
DSB: The other thing -- it's very difficult to define -- I just said it's like -- it's very difficult to define what it was that one learned from Lou. I said it's almost like one learned breathing. Except that I feel I was breathing pretty well before I got here, and since. But the other important lesson was probably just how important architecture is. For him, it was like breathing, and it was life and death. And it was like a God -- a Goddess -- that he served. And that by translation, therefore, that you should also be serving your Goddess. And serving, searching, looking for -- not imposing on, but looking for. And that this was really everything that was worth doing in life. And to learn that what you've chosen to do in life should have that kind of importance to you, was probably a very, very important lesson.
PR: It sounds somewhat parallel to the prophetic mission that you've talked about before.
DSB: I think Lou's prophetic mission was architecture.



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