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Architecture as an Environmental Influence III 

A Response to Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi

      After reading Venturi’s very well acclaimed Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, I am intrigued mostly by the ideas that develop his intuition for the architecture he creates. Although there maybe incredible amount of truth in that less is more, I suggest that pertains to the opaqueness of serenity and organization. In architecture, while some of the best buildings have been developed through that same theory, I would argue that creating multiplicities of organized elements is not, necessarily, the answer to a compelling work. It may be to a compelling spectacle, or arbitrary incoherence, but not to the poetic and theatrical nuance we seek at the urban level of architecture. As architecture becomes an environmental influence, a city of its own, and a living machine, if you will, we become fascinated with the divine conceptuality of hidden algorithms protected through layers of development. Hence, what our architecture becomes through its elements, program and function. As architects, we design spaces and moments, and the beauty in the theatrics of these spaces is what defines whether it was successful or not. Mind you, beauty in architecture is another paradigm of complexity in itself, there can be beauty in the sublime, as well as the picturesque. Therefore, if the minimalism in design, the less is more, is that what pertains to the opaqueness in serenity and organization, then the explicit nature of diversity and chaos, without a doubt, has a hefty amount of systematic complexities. Leading to what I have come to understand is in fact the Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Venturi says, “I speak of a complex and contradictory architecture based on the richness and ambiguity of modern experience, including that experience which is inherent in art”, and I agree. We are both interested in what seems to be the medium between the utopian and dystopian, and what is it in architecture that manifests these characteristics.

        Throughout the literature, Venturi recalls the architectures of the Italian Renaissance, including the Mannerist and Baroque Eras with works of Palladio and Borromini. As well as, modern American architecture with works of Louis Kahn. He indicates a relationship between the significance of architectural detailing, space planning, and physiological experience. Moreover, how relationships between exterior and interior design create worthy juxtapositions, or how elements such as windows and structure can be controlled and have multiple acts of significance in a project. This leads me to be interested in the Vanna Venturi House, he designed in 1964. In the chapter, Ambiguity, Venturi says “Abstract Expressionism acknowledges perceptual ambiguity, and the basis of Optical Art is shifting juxtapositions and ambiguous dualities relating to form and expression”. Through his design in the Vanna House we see this manifestation through his artistry in architecture, and how he becomes interested in the image of the architecture or rather the architectural detail upon its surroundings to evoke or dramatize a specific experience and/or environment. The façade of this building is in direct relationship to that of Alberti and Corbusier where he fixates the façade detailing according to a geometry, whether it’s through the chimney extrusion and concave illustration or the solid and void patterns giving you a grand entrance and balcony on the upper floor. As well as, through the windows, whether ribbon or punctuated, have a significant impact upon foreshadowing the programmatic functions of the interior. Through this all, it’s the ambiguity of the façade that acts as an image, the building elevation in itself is an art of contradictions overshadowing the interior complexities of its function.


     The interior space is much more dramatized, as we experience his desire and influence upon juxtaposing the exterior box-like qualities of constraints to an interior of optical morphism on the ground space. We see some symmetry recalling Palladio, but its centrality morphs into a curving/staggered circulation. The interior experience becomes complex based on its function and style of design creating the contradiction in space. While using the techniques of solid and voids to create a diverse spatial experiences not only on the ground plane but on the visual peripheral. The differentiation of wall partition heights and thicknesses to intensify the juxtapositions of tension and compression in private and public spaces are also significant techniques to intensify a the spatial drama. These are the architectural nuances that dramatize the overall living experience, that create diversity and limit or intensify chaos, or on the contrary, the tranquility of this living machine. While this building is at a one family residential scale, the same concepts can be used to influence a larger environment. The theatrics of an environment, essentially the outcome of an architectural life experience, is upon the details we as architects and designers choose to use to influence the space.


   To end this post, I will allude to abstract images reflecting this idea of Complexity and Contradiction in L'Attraccion and how this building introduces an environmental  experience through its architecture.