Learning from Learning from Las Vegas (again)
A sentence within the last paragraph of Scott Brown's 'Preface to the Revised Edition' (1977) gave me pause:
"We feel too that architects, bar a few diehards, are coming to realize that what we learned from Las Vegas, and what they by implication should learn too, is not to place neon signs on the Champs Elysees or a blinking "2 + 2 = 4" on the roof of the Mathematics Building, but rather to reassess the role of symbolism in architecture, and, in the process, to learn a new receptivity to the tastes and values of other people and a new modesty in our designs and in our perception of our role as architects in society."
Pause because I immediately thought of two instances where work of 'the firm' appears to contradict what should "not" be done.
Venturi and Rauch, Roma Interrotta: Sector VII (1978).
Neon signs at the Roman Forum? Perhaps not just that, but also an indication of how the Las Vegas billboard is 'today's' symbolic equivalent. Maybe, maybe not, or perhaps the Rape the the Sabine Women scupture up in front subliminally delivers a more potent symbolic message. Anyway, the fact remains that Venturi and Rauch sought out this particular section of the Nolli map--"One of the last episodes between Giurgola and Venturi occurred at the very beginnings of Roma Interrotta. When each of the invited architects received their section of the Nolli map of Rome, they also got to see what sections the other invited architects received. The Venturi office preferred the section received by the Giurgola office, so the Venturi office asked the Giurgola office if they wouldn't mind exchanging sections. The Giurgola office said they'd be happy to exchange, but they would rather ask the Roma Interrotta people before doing so. The Roma Interrotta people said the exchange was OK, and the rest is architectural history." "I still remember what Brigitte Knowles (the blonde student you see in one of Kahn's classes in My Architect, and in 1978 one of my teachers and my employer) told me after returning from Rome and having there seen the Roma Interrotta exhibition: "Venturi's boards were terrible, really a disgrace. They just pasted some Las Vegas stuff on the Nolli map, and that was it. I think they are now finished.""
Working title: Learning from Mixed Messages.
Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, Philadelphia Orchestra Hall, second scheme (1987-96).
A bar of orchestral music on an orchestra hall? Personally, I thought this was just plain pathetic when I first saw it. This commission turned out to be a sad loss for the firm.
One can well conclude that "a new receptivity to the tastes and values of other people" actually boils down to opening a very unpredictable 'can of worms'. And, for all the seemingly positive talk of "a new modesty in our designs and in our perception of our role as architects in society" there is still a somewhat elitist aesthetic filter.