AIA Gold Medal: Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi
Architect, May 2016
An outpouring of joy rippled through the design community when the AIA announced last December that Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, and Robert Venturi, FAIA, would receive the 2016 Gold Medal. Everyone knew that Venturi and Scott Brown—Bob and Denise, to their legions of admirers—had produced more than enough work of historic importance over their decades-long partnership to merit the honor. But more than that, the award is significant in two respects: This is the first time a living woman has received the Gold Medal, and it’s the first time that two individuals have received it together, following a rules change by the Institute in 2013.
Many architects have found poetic justice in the decision. The Pritzker Architecture Prize won by Venturi in 1991 went to him alone, and a campaign a few years ago to retroactively acknowledge Scott Brown’s role did not succeed. Finally, it seems, Scott Brown is getting her due. The rules change also implies a growing recognition within architecture that great design is a collaborative enterprise rather than the product of a lone (almost invariably male) genius.
To capture the spirit of this singular partnership, ARCHITECT spent a day exploring the archives of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi at the University of Pennsylvania, uncovering intimate glimpses of how the partnership operated. A selection of the couple’s notes, doodles, and correspondence appears below. We also talked to colleagues, former students, and employees at Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (now VSBA). We asked designers and scholars how the pair influenced them and how, through their teaching, writing, and building—and their stubborn dedication—they changed the course of modern architecture.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins