The work of husband-and-wife Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown is prolific, scattered across the U.S. and world, from the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London to the postmodern Seattle Art Museum.
But the dynamic duo made roots here in Philadelphia, where their firm VSBA (Venturi Scott Brown) continues to run to this day, although the couple has since retired from practice. Here, in honor of Venturi’s recent 92nd birthday on June 25, is a highlight of his and her most iconic works of architecture, all located in Philly.
Vanna Venturi House
As the story goes, in 1964 Venturi designed this postmodern home in Chestnut Hill for his mother. Little did he know—or perhaps he had some inkling—that the unusual structure would go on to become one of the most lauded and iconic homes of its time. It recently sold to new owner and neighbor David Lockhard, but Venturi is known to briefly visit his mother’s house on a weekly basis, admiring the home before blowing it a kiss and driving off.”
The Guild House in Callowhill was the first major work of Venturi when he designed it for senior citizen housing in 1960. Considered one of the first examples a postmodern building, the Guild House resisted Modernist ideals. Venturi once said of the structure, "Economy dictated not 'advanced' architectural elements, but 'conventional' ones. We did not resist this."
Franklin Court is a recreation of Ben Franklin’s home in Old City. Built in 1978, Scott Brown and Venturi placed the main exhibit area of Franklin’s house underground i a 30,000-square-foot exhibit and designed a steel “ghost” structures above ground to represent the original house. It has since become one of the most-visited sites in Independence National Historical Park and won the National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1977 and the Presidential Design Award in 1984.
Philadelphia Zoo Treehouse
Under the leadership of Venturi, Scott Brown, and principal Steven Izenour, the George D. Widener Memorial Treehouse at the nation’s first zoo was part of the institution’s larger efforts to restructure and rehabilitate the entire zoo. VSB was tasked with designing a new exhibit that would create an immersive experience for visitors and evoke emotion and empathy with “the natural world of science.” What made the project more noteworthy was that the architects convinced the zoo to preserve an incorporate a Victorian building designed by noted designer George Hewitt, a partner of Frank Furness.