a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Our courtship


The development of the theory of planning class
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Architect
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

[DSB] I think I've understood how the theories courses started. Paul Davidoff was up in arms giving this… saying we should be more socially active and the things that people should realise about planning and architecture, and the faults of master planning and all of that. And then he started to say, ‘Well, we need a theory course, a theory of planning course’. So, he could say everything that should be. He was naïve as a theoretician because he was saying they are, but he meant should be. And so, a theories course… theory course, theory of planning was passed and Paul and Tom Reiner ran it. And I kibitzed, I used to say, and I was a young faculty member then and this was first semester of 1961, probably. And I used to say, ‘You haven’t done any planning, I’ve at least done some, at least, you know, physical planning. And the things you’re saying just really don’t quite work the way you think. All of them are right, but they don’t work in the order you think they do’, etc., etc. Dave Crane was more of a theorist of planning method than Paul Davidoff was, because he’d done it and he had ideas about how you should do it and that’s how he ran his studio. So, I think, that the Dean of the School of Architecture who was planning oriented, was interested in this.

But also, there was another thing, the Dean too had a theory and his theory was that the people who came into architecture were graduate students, unlike England, for example. And they were already educated verbally. They were too verbal, he would feel and they’ve not had any manual training at all and we needed to have something to accompany studio that basically taught them how to draw, because they can’t draw. ‘So, we’ll give them their first project and this will be in the fall.  We’ll give them their first project and the project will be a neighbourhood unit, because there’s lots of stuff their verbal skills can work on as they gather the data and all that. And then, in another course we’ll give them a lot of drawing, so they can be ready to do it when they come to the second semester. So, it was meant to be a lot of drawing. Well, what should they draw? Well, they don’t know much about buildings and they need a vocabulary of buildings so, we’ll let them draw plans and sections of buildings that other architects have designed. So, we’ll produce boards the way fine arts departments produce boards of paintings but these will be of a steel and glass school by Mies Van Der Rohe, a steel and glass building by so and so, a steel and glass building by so and so, and here are all the boards, Denise. And Denise, what you need to do is just make sure in these work topics that you give them that they draw’. And so, there we had… that’s what he wanted them to do. But, he said, ‘You can’t just do this. Oh, well, I’ll tell you what else we’ll do, there’s the theory. Theory, that’s a good idea. So, we’ll get the different faculty members to teach theories – their theories – so, we’ll get theories of landscape architecture, and city planning and architecture, and a different one can come each time. And you run the whole thing and you put it together and you organise it and then, you can give a lecture if you like, one lecture. And then, and you set the exams and you do the term papers and the reading lists and all things of a course, and it will look like a course, but it will do what I want, give them some vocabulary of architecture and how to draw. Then what should we do for the second semester?’ ‘Oh, gee, there is a second semester!’ I’m presuming from the things he told me, he wanted. ‘There is a second semester, and, well, we can’t go on like that there’s not enough faculty. The other faculties aren’t worth talking to’.  I’m sure he felt that, because he sort of told me that. ‘And so, okay well we’ll have to go into history of architecture theories. Well, where can we find someone and it mustn’t cost too much money.  Where can we find someone who can be like Denise, not you know… not much older, like a teaching assistant really, just an instructor, who can deal with something about history of theory for architects? Well, there’s that young guy who comes from Princeton and… and he’s had theory. And he won’t cost more because he’s already on the faculty.’

[RV] I never had theory.

[DSB] Well, I know you’ve never had theory, you’d had history, which is want he wanted. ‘So, there’s that young guy from Princeton, I’m sure he can put together something about the theories of architecture, historically.’ So, there he had his course. Little did he know what it would lead to in American architectural education, but the interesting thing was that it really did help studio. And the first year I gave it, the students almost killed me, they were so bored with those steel and glass buildings. So, I then talked to the head of first year studio, I said, ‘I just can’t do it that way’. He said, ‘Forget about what the Dean wants, you do it your way’. So, then, I began having a lovely time and then the students really enjoyed it. When we were doing housing, I got them… I said, ‘Six questions about housing you need to think about and please illustrate these questions, and here are some books and one of the books is The Minor Architecture of Venice [sic]. And in it, please look to tell me how light is gotten into housing that is row housing. Tell me how the public side of the building is handled different from the private side, and all of these kinds of questions. Where do I get the feeling of privacy when I’m living in public housing?’ You see, and things like that.  And they took to those like ducks to water and they really used their historical books to teach themselves and they became much better at handling the problems of planning, because they had a better vocabulary. Not of steel and glass buildings, but of what the issues are and how they’d been solved. And, of course, this went along with Bob taking a separate issue each time. How did they deal with lighting in Gothic architecture? How did they deal with lighting in Renaissance architecture? What is the difference between a hole in the wall and an absence of light? The things he still talks about. So, we helped put together something that made their performance in studio much improved, and when we left and they gave it up, performance in studio went way down. It was interesting to learn that. So, that’s my take on how those theories courses happened and that’s a lot of what we were doing at that time.

And then, Bob started to write and my thinking is, he was really writing for a few reasons. One of them was because he wanted to make sense of his own Roman experience. Another is, because a lot of his friends were academics and what academics did was write. And so, and then, as I said before, he was trying to work out what he thought by his writing. So, I read that book in manuscript. I told him that the pictures were too small. Somewhere there is the text of the critique I gave him on the book, but I don’t know where that is. I found it one day in my papers and eventually, the people going through the archive will find what I said to him in about 1962 about the book. And then, after that we just… every now and then I wouldn’t hear much from Bob for some weeks and then, we’d have dinner again and once I was in a restaurant with someone else and there was Bob with another woman in the restaurant. I can’t remember who it was. It could have been Harriet? It could have been Harriet, you were taking. You used to take me to the Quaker Lady and you’d take her to something a little more chic than that. So, I thought well, I’m the Quaker Lady date, what does that mean? Well, it looks like you marry the Quaker Lady date.

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: 7 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: 22nd to 23rd September 2006

Date story went live: 27 May 2010