American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

By Keith L. Eggener | Go to book overview

Chapter 20
Robert Venturi and “the return of historicism”

Neil Levine

Among the many reasons why Robert Venturi can be considered one of the most influential architects of the last quarter of the twentieth century, perhaps first and foremost is his understanding of the role history must play in the restoration of a representational dimension to modern architecture. To discuss his work exclusively in terms of the appropriation of elements of pop culture and vernacular traditions seems to me to miss, or even purposely to conceal, that much more important point. Long before Learning from Las Vegas (1972) […] came the first manifesto of what Nikolaus Pevsner was already bemoaning as “the return of historicism,” Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966).1 And even before that came Guild House, with its radical and prophetic use of the historical precedent of classical composition and detailing for what was, in effect, “merely” another example of economic modern housing.

Guild House, the apartment building in Philadelphia that was constructed between 1960 and 1966, was the first major design of Venturi’s to be built and can appropriately be taken as the point of reference for this essay (Figure 20.1). Its predominant segmental arch, ultimately deriving from Roman sources, became a leitmotif of his architecture as well as the basis for pastiche after pastiche by countless other designers over the next quarter century. The subsequent Vanna Venturi House (built 1963–64), Trubek House (1970–71), and Wu Hall (1980–83) must all be seen in terms of the representational meaning Guild House gave to historical allusion as well as the specific contextual purpose that building first articulated for the revival of traditional forms and ideas of design.

The idea of historical precedent, which directed Venturi’s very earliest projects, became the touchstone of his discussion of architectural theory in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, written after Guild House was designed and published [as] the building was [being] completed. In his preface to the book, Venturi quoted T. S. Eliot to explain how tradition, meaning “the historical sense”—“a conscious sense of the past”—guided his own work,2 and the hundreds of small photographs included in the margins of the text were meant to illustrate how, in Venturi’s mind, an architect must draw on historical precedent in order to represent an architectural thought. That sense of historical precedent was shown to be as broad and as eclectically based as one might imagine, with images on a single page (Figure 20.2), for instance, drawn from Gothic France, Baroque England, Mannerist Italy, Rococo Bavaria, Romantic-Classical London, ancient Rome, twentieth-century modernity as well as, and this is what is so important, twentieth-century historicism, the last represented by the photograph at the upper left of

-365-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 449

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.