Architecture without Content 6: Without Venturi

Robert Venturi is probably architecture's best-known hero for the wrong reason. Extremely successful at a young age as the iconoclast of North America's late modernism, he soon came to represent (through his collaboration with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izneour) a specific kind of sociology turned into one-dimensional architecture, forever incarnated in Learning from Las Vegas. The gargantuan success of his second publication somehow dwarfed the monumental achievements of his first (and far more funny) book: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Ever devoured by generations as obligatory literature in their education, the reading of this treatise has always been somehow biased by what came afterwards. In many ways the facts of history are always more nuanced and complicated then simple slogans can assess. Still we feel it is important to reactivate again the grammar, vocabulary, methods and insights that are so beautifully presented to us in his seminal work. Taking Venturi's work as a method however, would account for a gigantic mistake, as it would not be truthful to the very core of his practice: to suggest without claiming, and to claim without consequence (something he sadly forgot in later times). For that reason this Venturi studio in Tokyo is (and was) 'Without Venturi'. In an attempt to take his work afresh, we should not theorise it too much, we should appropriate it with a certain naiveté. The workshop we organised did exactly that: take a Venturi project, appropriate it, transform it, replace it. This simple method of dumb transformation allowed us to think about language and principles, without the bias of interpretation. The interpretation came later. 'Without Venturi' came about because Yoshi Tsukamoto invited us to do a workshop at Tokyo Tech, an invitation we took with much pleasure and engagement. From the very beginning, it was clear to us that the Tokyo of Bow Wow, Sakamoto and Shinohara was the perfect spot to investigate the rather naive hunch on Venturi we caress for some time now. Perhaps the work of these three architects is the best example of the possible success of false interpretation, appropriation and indirect inspiration. In a conversation we had the luck to have with Sakamoto-sensei, he confessed of being at a certain point, very inspired by the 'images' and the 'image sequence' of the Complexity book. Untranslated and to a certain extent, obscure, the visual poetry and probably the visual argument found its way into the very idiosyncratic and beautiful work of the Japanese master. Without Venturi is for that reason very much tribute to this work, to architects that took formal risks more or less inspired by it, or more often just out of the blue. We feel this is the fundamental lesson of Venturi's legacy, as it brings us back to a radical method of formal accumulation that does not fall short because of its ideological bandwidth, but is able to embrace the complexity of the world without sacrificing its own inner consistency


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