Robert Venturi Less Is a Bore How His Architecture Validated That Statement Research Paper

Pages: 6 (1930 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Architecture

Robert Venturi's famous line "less is a bore" is a direct challenge to the earlier modernist notion that "less is more," and Venturi's architectural production is similarly a challenge to earlier modes of architectural design that emphasized uniformity and simplicity while condemning extravagance or experimentation. While Venturi's work could not easily be called extravagant, examining it in relation to the concept of "less if a bore" reveals how his work attempts to break down arbitrary restrictions on architectural form while encouraging an eclectic multiplicity of inspiration and expression. Venturi's architectural practice is an embodiment of his theoretical ideas, and examining the Vanna Venturi house, one his earliest pieces, and the Sainsbury wing to the National Gallery in London, one of his most recent works, will serve to demonstrate how Venturi's architectural practice validates the maxim "less is a bore" by celebrating the kind of complex and contradictory details expressions that define human experience.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Before discussing Venturi's work in detail, it will be useful to first consult what Venturi himself has to say about both his own architectural production and the field in general. In his book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, which Venturi calls a "gentle manifesto" and, according to the New York Times, "did more than any other single work to create the current movement away from the simple austerity of modern architecture," he argues that "the doctrine 'less is more' bemoans complexity," which Venturi actually enjoys because for him, complexity in architecture is "based on the richness and ambiguity of modern experience, including that experience which is inherent in art" (Goldberger 1982, a.27, & Venturi 2002, 16-17). He contrasts this complexity with "the incoherence or arbitrariness of incompetent architecture [and] the precious intricacies or pictoresqueness or expressionism" by suggesting that complexity is not a question of arbitrarily introduced detail or an aversion to classical geometry, but rather a feature of both human experience and artistic production that is ever-present and inescapable, as naturally occurring as the fractalized shape of leaves on a tree or erosion on a mountain, like a kind of "authentic natural order, self-emergent from spontaneous responses to prototypical situations" (Venturi 2002, 16, & Bachman 2008, 20). As such, Venturi suggests that this complexity should be embraced, as it has been in other disciplines, rather than avoided through "the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture," which seeks the "pure," the "clean," the "straightforward," and the "articulated" (Venturi 2002, 16). While Venturi agrees that Modernism has "had valuable implications for architecture," its "selectiveness of content and language" means that it unnecessarily reduces the scope of its expression even as human experience and the scope of buildings themselves transcend the relatively limited expressive ability of Modernism (Venturi 2002, 17).

In opposition to this limited "puritanically moral language," Venturi offers a list of adjectives that offer the ideal starting point for considering his work, because they essentially represent the ideals to which his architectural production aspires. Venturi states:

I like elements which are hybrid rather than 'pure,' compromising rather than 'clean,' distorted rather than 'straightforward,' ambiguous rather than 'articulated,' perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as 'interesting,' conventional rather than 'designed,' accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non-sequitur and proclaim the duality. (Venturi 2002, 16)

Venturi is arguing for "the gray of real esthetic experience, not the black and white of idealized perfection that modernism had so often sought," and thus he views architectural practice as a process of reflecting human experience in static forms rather than celebrating those forms in and of themselves (Goldberger 1991, a. 36). Like the phenomenologist architects who likewise rejected the celebration of form and material devoid of content, Venturi's architectural theory and practice attempts to address the intersection between space and place, where human experience and physical forms meet. Examining one of Venturi's earliest works, the Vanna Venturi house (made for the architect's mother) can help to demonstrate how these ideals find expression in actual architectural practice, because this particular building represents what one might call the Venturification of earlier Modernist tendencies, wherein the simplicity and cleanliness so loved by Modernism is turned on its head to produce a building that defies easy visual reception (image 1).

The house embodies the kind of complexity and contradiction Venturi argues is inherent in human experience, because while each portion of the house's appearance is made up of clearly delineated geometric shapes, these shapes intersect each other to form an image far more complex than the sum of its parts, and a far cry from the staid simplicity of Modernism. The roof is a low, sloping triangle until it reaches its peak, which is cut out of the entire building except for a portion featuring the chimney which runs perpendicular to the slope of the house, giving the impression that a portion of the building was taken out, rotated ninety degrees, and set back down. Even as the cut-out portion suggests a clean, squared-away character to the building despite the ninety-degree shift, asymmetry and distortion seems to radiate outwards from this point.

Two design details contribute to this asymmetry by creating a kind of optical illusion, thus embodying the complexity and contradiction of everyday biological experience into the structure of the house. Above the entrance, a horizontal bar and curved line contribute to the symmetry of the image, but the spacing of the windows below them make both lines appear as if they are longer on one side. When facing the building, the left side features a single window where the curved line terminates, but on the right side, there is a row of similarly-sized windows a good deal away from the termination of the curved line. This has the contradictory effect of elongating the right side when looking solely at the windows, but elongating the left side when looking at the image as a whole, because the leftmost portion of the curved line appears to terminate at a lower point due to its proximity to the window. Thus, the building represents the complexity and contradiction Venturi celebrates while simultaneously acting as a kind of direct challenge to Modernism by taking Modernist notions of geometrical simplicity and utilitarian function by "deemphasizing the roof as enclosure" and using simple ornamentation to complicate the viewer's reception and challenge preexisting notions of space and use (Theunissen 2010, 55).

In some ways, Venturi's architectural production cannot be explicated from his theoretical work, because while at times his theoretical work has been "surely better known than any of the architect's buildings," ultimately the buildings themselves must be considered a part of that theoretical process (albeit a more concrete part) (Goldberger 1982, a.27). This is because like all other forms of artistic expression, a work of art implicitly comments on every other work, such that the Vanna Venture house must considered not only as a house for the architect's mother, but also for "the ways it contributed to the debate about what architecture was trying to deal with as it emerged from the Modern Movement" (Lawson 2002, 111). With this in mind, the theoretical implications of the Vanna Venturi house become clear, and the building almost self-evidently validates Venturi's claim that "less is a bore." However, Venturi has been designing buildings for decades, so one of his earliest works, which would have had a much more direct connection to Modernism, as the movement still held sway, is not sufficient to claim that Venturi has sufficiently embodied his theoretical claims in his actual architectural practice. For that, one must discuss a more recent work as well, and in this case the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery in London offers an ideal object, because it manages to demonstrate complexity and contradiction while using an entirely different stylistic approach than the Vanna Venturi house.

In 1991, Venturi was awarded the opportunity to design a new wing to the National Gallery in London, after nearly a decade of discussion had resulted in various designs deemed too modern to fit with the gallery as a whole. Venturi's design, on the other hand, demonstrates an attention to the original composition of the gallery while clearly marking itself as a new addition. The wing features columns and stonework that mirrors the older buildings, but the entrance, roof, and overall facade belie their relative youth. The roof peeks above the white stone and concrete facade, revealing a kind of contemporary mind hidden beneath the classical shell, which itself shines bright compared to its neighbors while hinting towards a far future when it might finally be as aged.

The contradiction between the glass and steel roof and the classical facade celebrate the notion that "less is a bore" by highlighting the fact that either would be far less interesting without the other. The roof is not especially revolutionary considering that the combination of glass and steel has been a hallmark of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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