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Why we went to work in China


Problems with developers
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Architect
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[RV] We do have some problems with developers, we’re now working with several. But in the past we haven’t worked with developers, we’ve worked with institutions… institutions. And I think developers seem to worry that we as arty architects will not come in on the budget and within schedule, and we will not be realistic. That is very sad because that’s not true. If you’re… if you’re an arty architect you can also be a practical architect, as someone put it, we are arty and crafty. But that’s hard for people to understand and therefore also we don’t have a lot of back experience with development work and probably developers are worried about that. On the other hand, we’ve had a lot of repeat work, lots with high-faluting institutions and that means that they come back to us, because they like us.

[DSB] We… we get clients who want to challenge themselves. And they want to match wits with us, they want to have fun with us, they want to tease us. That’s another piece of it. And they want to work with us. Now, you can find developers like that too. The developers who’s working with us now, partly might want to use our name but they’ve also… they’re strong enough people in themselves that they don’t have to be threatened by us and they’re fun to work with. And one thing you get from a developer is crisp decision-making, which is a huge relief after institutions. The ones who can’t make up their minds probably can’t last very long. So, it goes well. On the other hand, developers really want to be on their own, they don’t like collaborating very much with other people, a lot of them. It’s one of those jobs people go to, because they don’t want a boss they want to be their own boss. So, they don’t want an architect bossing them either, from that point of view. So, we need to find ones that can be open-minded and work with us in collaboration without needing to boss us, but legitimately don’t want us to boss them either.

Arty architects such as Dan Libeskind, Richard Meier, Michael Gray, I don’t know […] Robert Stern have done high-rises of sorts. I don’t know about Peter Eisen, really in that way and they seem to get… don’t have a problem working with developers.  Why do you think you’re different?

[DSB] Well, don’t forget that we were being investigated by most of those… many of those developers at the end of the period of… the last period of a lot of high-rise construction. Now, we weren’t in New York, so, they had to travel out of New York to come and see us, and some of them did. And I’ve said they put their nose under our tent. Well, I don’t think they went away saying I won’t work with them. What happened was, the bubble burst. By the time the next bubble started again, we were old fashioned. Why would you use us? If you want a signature, it’s the wrong signature. So, I think it’s more fortuitous than this. In the first place, they hadn’t heard of us, as you’ve said before and by the time the second round came by, they’d sure heard of us. They knew that Pomo was out and we were Pomo. So, they didn’t know about us, even then.

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: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: 22nd to 23rd September 2006

Date story went live: 27 May 2010