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Robert Scott Brown and how we met


Designing medical centers (Part 2)
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Architect
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[DSB] So, we said, ‘The idea of…’ which was not our idea, it was the President’s idea… the President’s idea… ‘of crossing the major street and putting the labs on the other side, would work and would be a good idea’. Because there was already built in a place for the bridge in the hospital and they could use that place. And they… we then gave them a plan for the Medical Center on the other side of the street, of a series of labs and place for clinical extensions too. And so, we’d done that plan. At that point I had 150 medics in that place going like this at me. One actually said, ‘I’m going to take my million dollar research grant and go to another institution’. Made me think that professors, like curators in a museum, professors in a university see themselves as oppressed and see me as a running dog of the imperialists of the oppressors… of the oppressors. And they probably are oppressed and I’ve said to presidents, ‘Stop oppressing the faculty and I’ll be able to plan for you’. Anyway, it’s the… the administration are bemused by faculty. They can’t… particularly engineers around facilities planning, they can’t believe what faculty do.

You know the story of the Smith building. They couldn’t believe what faculty did at Penn. Anyway, so, the question there was, how could we convince these people that, in fact, they really did need to move? Well, now, the building is up and the people who were so against it either have forgotten or left. It was a great joy to me to see a jogger, jogging along our bridge in the morning before going into work in the hospital. And also, when you are… when you at the… across the road on the other side of the bridge there’s a coffee shop, or there’s…

This is at Penn?

[DSB] No, this is at Kentucky, University of Kentucky, yes. There’s intended to be a coffee shop in a position we’ve left for it there and the idea is that, from the hospital you will smell the coffee in the morning. And this will take you across and help make that linkage which we’re trying to make, this meeting of the minds.

[RV] Don’t forget Lehigh Valley.

[DSB] And then, yes… no then I was going to go on from there. We have been hired to be architects for the Allentown Museum, which is in Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. And it’s in the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley is a very well kept secret, you don’t quite know what the secret is but they’re doing very well, thank you, there. And they don’t tell many people and they have this beautiful landscape and this beautiful campus of the university there. And things are going very well.

At Lehigh University?

[DSB] Well, yes and the Lehigh Valley in general – it gets its support from New York and Philadelphia – and so, it’s a… it’s a hive of activity that we Philadelphians don’t know much about. And it has this air of having a secret. Well, we were at an early meeting at the Allentown Museum and a trustee came up to us and he said, ‘I’m Elliot Sussman and I went to Yale. And I took Vincent Scully’s class in architecture and I know all about you’. Vincent Scully has sent us more clients and he said, ‘I love architecture’, words to that effect, ‘and I really wish you had done hospitals’. And I said, ‘Well, Elliot you know, in a sense, we have’. And I explained to him exactly how we had done hospitals. We deal with the part that brings amenity to the public way inside the hospital and to the access. We try to work out the siting of hospital buildings and bring amenities to the access patterns and clarity. I went on to say, ‘People who are driving to hospital are not their best selves – they’re sick, they’re worried, they’re worried about what the hospital will do to them and they also, often, are elderly. They really need a clear pattern to bring them to the hospital’.  And he said ‘This is exactly what we want, we have hospital architects we need this other’. So, he hired us then and there. Now, we’re just building our second hospital for him and are doing some other extra work after that, and a parking structure. And we do the ceremonial spaces and the basic layouts, much as we’ve done with the labs. And he has got many interesting innovations in hospitals that he’s talked about, mainly relationships between nursing stations and hospital beds. But when you walk into the elevator, quite often in the elevator you hear a, sort of like, a wedding bell ringing or a little soft bell. Each time that bell rings it means a baby was born.

Internationally renowned architects Robert Venturi (1925-2018) and Denise Scott Brown (b.1931) have helped transform contemporary design through their innovative architecture and planning. Winners of numerous prestigious awards, their designs have championed multiculturalism, social activism, symbolism, pop culture, history and evolving technologies.

Listeners: Thomas Hughes

Thomas Hughes is Mellon Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books include Human Built World, Rescuing Prometheus and American Genesis. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, US National Academy of Engineering, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Duration: 4 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: 22nd to 23rd September 2006

Date story went live: 27 May 2010