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The Benjamin Franklin Memorial building (Part 1)


Early days working together (Part 2)
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Architect
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[DSB] In 1979 we got our first work with Princeton and that was the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. We’d already been given an important building by Oberlin College. And at that time we were also doing an exhibition on Signs… Signs of Life and that was an exhibition on symbolism and we were thinking about taste cultures and the way in which different taste groups relate to architecture.

Where was the Signs of Life exhibit?

[DSB] In Washington, at the Smithsonian.


[DSB] For the Bicentennial. We also had another important building for the Bicentennial but it began to make us self-aware of the fact that we had certain kinds of clients; they’re called tea-and-sympathy clients, or the very, very highest taste culture clients. And they… the projects they can give out would sit on the head of a pin and are wanted by all the signature architects in the country, at least that was the situation in the 1970s, during the Depression. So, when we got our Princeton work we… we had this Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval which meant the next client group, the upper middle class group, the upper middle taste culture– I’m using the words that Gans used in his book, Popular Culture and High Culture – they were now interested in us so that was a very, very much bigger market, but also more difficult for us. So let me take it to that point, where we might just have arrived courtesy of Princeton University.

What was this upper middle class, what kind of client would that have been?

[DSB] The big universities, the Ivy League universities, the big State universities, corporations are often that group of people, but they weren’t hiring us and still haven’t. Harvard University’s upper middle culture.


[DSB] Oberlin is upper culture, high culture.

[RV] Okay. The… William Bowen had a lot to do helping with – the President of Princeton – to get us the work. I now refer to Bill Bowen as… as our great patron, as Lorenzo de’ Medici.  So I write letters to him and I say, ‘Dear Lorenzo El Magnifico e Contessa de’ Medici’ – his wife.

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: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: 22nd to 23rd September 2006

Date story went live: 27 May 2010