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Robert Venturi, postmodernist architect, dies at 93

Architect Robert Venturi, who rejected austere modern design and instead ushered in postmodern complexity with the dictum “Less is a bore,” has died. He was 93.

His family released a statement on his firm’s website saying Venturi died at home in Philadelphia on Tuesday after a brief illness, surrounded by his wife, the architect Denise Scott Brown, and son, James Venturi.

He remained active well into his 80s at Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, the architectural firm he founded in the 1960s. It’s now known as VSBA Architects + Planners.

“All of us at VSBA are heartbroken. Viva Bob,” the firm said in a statement.

Unlike the spare esthetic of modernists like Mies van der Rohe, Venturi’s work celebrated complexity and even inconsistency in design. He encouraged architects and consumers to enjoy “messy vitality” in architecture — whether whimsical, sarcastic, humorous or honky-tonk.

Often referred to as the father of postmodernism, Venturi shunned the title, calling it “an easy catch phrase … the equivalent of a political sound bite.”
In 1991, Venturi was awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, for “expanding and redefining the limits of architecture in this century, as perhaps no other has.”

“Architects today are too educated to be either primitive or totally spontaneous, and architecture is too complex to be approached with carefully maintained ignorance,”

Venturi wrote in his 1966 manifesto against what he saw as the excesses of modernism entitled “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.”

In that book Venturi first established his “Less is a bore” philosophy — in defiance of the minimalist approach to architecture espoused in van der Rohe’s credo “Less is more.”

The 1972 book “Learning from Las Vegas,” which Venturi and Scott Brown wrote with the late Steven Izenour, embraced the blinking facades and flashy signs of the Las Vegas strip as a reinvigoration of architectural design.

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