Ornament, Scale & Ambiguity
Robert Venturi (Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates) & Denise Scott Brown (Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates)


Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown

©Monica Pidgeon

RV: Denise and I have spoken before of the 'decorated shed'. Our feeling that an appropriate building form for now is one where the form and the spatial quality of a building are very simple and very direct, very conventional, and where the aesthetic excitement comes from the ornament on the building, the pattern of the building , rather than the shape of the building and the structural articulation of the building. This allows for buildings that can be quite conventional in their methods of construction, that can be therefore standardised, that can be economical and their buildings no longer depend on their architectural excitement, as I said, deriving from fancy sculptural articulation. DSB: The work that we're interested in now and working on now, a lot of it contains pattern, and this came out of our earlier studies in symbolism and representation, and these ideas have been accepted by many people, and we see work not too different from what we would have done in many places that we visit, which is a change for us, a slightly hair raising change. But pattern as a device has not been generally taken up. We seem to remain one of the few firms that investigates the use of pattern in different ways and at different scales.


Molecular Biology Laboratory, Princeton University

©Venturi, Rauch & Scott Brown

RV: The Molecular Biology Laboratory building at Princeton University is the project that is interesting us the most at the moment and that we're in the middle of. It's the biggest building we've ever designed. It's interesting because we're the architects responsible for the exterior design of the building. Payette and Associates of Boston, who are experts in research laboratories, are responsible for the interior of the building. We are very happy about this building also because it's the fourth or fifth or sixth project that we've received from Princeton University, so they obviously like the work we've done before. It's one of the most difficult projects we've ever had because, the way we've designed it, its architectural expression depends very much on pattern, on exterior pattern, and pattern is something that we have been advocating for a long time. On the other hand, pattern is very, very difficult to do. It's something none of us architects have any practice in, something that was thrown away at the beginning of this century, that element of architecture. And the pattern on this building is the thing which is giving it a great deal of its quality. It's especially interesting too because the interior requirements of the building require that it be very big, very long and essentially have a very boring shape, if not an awkward shape. The shape turns out to be almost that of a shoebox and the design requirements for flexibility inside demand that the building be rather severe on the outside. So we have had to, as it were, camouflage the awkwardness of the shape by the appliqué of different patterns.

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