In honor of Mother's Day this weekend, let's celebrate with the first (generally accepted) example of postmodernism- "Mother's House" by Robert Venturi on claass HAUS today.
I kind of have a love-hate relationship with postmodernism. I just don't really get it or maybe, I do get it, but I've never really found most of the major works very appealing. This might not be all that unusual, and honestly my stance on PoMo has softened a bit since I left architecture school. That being said, this is one example I do get. The Vanna Venturi House, considered the first building of postmodernism, challenged the architectural establishment and started a movement. Let's get the basics.
WHO: Architect Robert Venturi designed the house for his mother, Vanna. He was young; it was one of his first commissions. But it pretty much changed everything. The influence of Denise Scott Brown (his longtime partner) can also be seen in the intersecting "streets" that cross the interior space.
WHAT: The "first postmodern anything" radically changed the course of architecture and design. Conspicuously anti-Modern, the house embraces tradition, classical ornament, and the frivolity of form. With his mother's house, Venturi basically threw a brick at the (ribbon) window of Miesian modernism.
WHERE: Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania (a suburban-type neighborhood within the city limits of Philadelphia)
WHY: Following the death of Robert Venturi, Sr., Vanna Venturi commissioned her son to design and build a house that would accommodate her needs as she aged, allowing her to live comfortably and on her own. Granted a great degree of design freedom, Venturi created a residence that borrowed heavily from history (the monumental gable with a broken pediment) and brazenly contradicted the Modernist gospel, "form follows function" (segmented arch over the door). With the construction of the Venturi House, postmodernism emerged as a rebuttal to the glass-walled, ornament-devoid modernism that dominated the first half of the twentieth century.
HOW: It took Venturi over three-and-a-half years, five preliminary schemes (and one final one), and countless modifications to complete the two-story, three-bedroom house for his mother. But like I said, this one changed everything. At the time of construction, Venturi was also working on his iconic manifesto, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, probably one of the most important architectural treatises of the twentieth century and the spark that changed the trajectory of modernism.
Since the Venturi House basically changed America, I won't even try to offer an exhaustive history, but you can read more about it here and here. Recently, after only two owners (Vanna Venturi and University of Pennsylvania professor, Dr. Thomas P. Hughes), the house sold for $1.325 million to an anonymous buyer.
I hope you enjoy this house as much as I do. And Happy Mother's Day. If you are an architect, you should probably follow Venturi's lead and build your mom a house. If not, just get her one of these great gifts or at the very least flowers.
Image at top- Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Philadelphia United States, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2011631329.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.