The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized


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Venturi and Rauch

Varga-Brigio Medical Office

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.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), pp. 262-64.



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