Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum, ed. and with contributions by Angelika Fitz, Katharina Ritter, Architekturzentrum Wien, 1st edition 2018, English, paperback, 176 pages, 237 colour and 27 B/W illustrations, Park Books, Zurich 2018, 36 euros
Denise Scott Brown at the Architekturzentrum Wien
Denise Scott Brown is one of the most famous architects of our time. However, the question what she is famous for is not easy to answer. Indeed, for many years the urbanist, architect, theoretician and teacher, now 87, publicly stood in the shadow of her husband, the recently deceased Robert Venturi. And although she has provided decades of support for women in architecture and worked as an equal partner in a shared studio with her husband, unlike him she has never been awarded a Pritzker Prize. It is high time for this solo exhibition, which, amazingly enough, is being organized by the Architekturzentrum Wien. That’s right: the show is not taking place in the USA, which is Denise Scott Brown’s home country and currently the country where the #MeToo debate is making waves in many different industries.
Scott Brown was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She studied in Johannesburg and London. In the 60s she continued her studies in Philadelphia with Louis Kahn. There she met Robert Venturi, whom she married in Santa Monica. In 1964 they founded Studio Venturi Scott Brown Associates together. Denise Scott Brown became famous as the author of the polemic Learning from Las Vegas, which won global attention for its sharp criticism of the Modern movement. Even works such as the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London, which was built according to a design by Venturi Scott Brown, lose prominence when set against the debate surrounding the book and its observations of the casino city, written by Scott Brown, Venturi and Steven Izenour and published in 1972 within the framework of a study at the Yale School of Architecture and Planning.
The exhibition at the Architekturzentrum Wien shows people, places and works by Denise Scott Brown in colourful billboards on the walls. Curators Angelika Fitz and Katharina Ritter, rather than focusing on critical distance, concentrate instead on direct immersion into the world of Denise Scott Brown. This creates a vivid panorama that invites visitors to take part in an interaction, is ironic and playful in a postmodern way, yet no less critical or inspiring. It represents a welcome beginning for a subsequent intensive reception of an architect and her work, both of which will finally be given the honour that is due.