Architecture Without Content

6. Without Venturi

This intensive course is part of an ongoing project called ‘Architecture Without Content’. 

Architecture Without Content started two years ago at Columbia university. Back then it was intended as a study of the Big Box, a big industrial building that can contain many things. Over time, Architecture without Content came to represent an idea of a possible architecture of the Perimeter, a pragmatic kind of architecture that remains radical and precise, conscious of the impact of its formal vocabulary. 

More recently, during its fourthincarnation, again at Columbia, we connected the architecture of Form and Perimeter to ideas developed by Robert Venturi during the first two decades of his architectural production. As a result we are currently updating his principle of the Difficult Whole and testing its capacity to invest into contemporary architecture. 

Last semester we merely touched this principle, as the scale of the buildings forced us into a rather open interpretation, fertile but perhaps slightly farfetched. This time, in the intensive course in Tokyo, we want to take the opportunity to further investigate Venturi’s powerful formal ideas. 

Key to this investigation is the belief that Venturi’s early works (and formal theories) are much more fertile and direction defining than what a narrow understanding (often biased by tendentious interpretations) allows us to see. These projects provide us with an incredible vocabulary if understood with a healthy reserve. This vocabulary has many (conscious) parallels with that of some key architects of the recent past and the vivid present, as his investigation in form is both conscious and consistent. 

In this studio in Tokyo we will start with a set of buildings by Venturi. Weapon of choice is the perspective. Through re-drawing we will appropriate them. Through transplantation we will eliminate their superficial biases. In their new site they will become true laboratories of form, always in close relationship to significant heirs nearby; as Difficult Doubles.

Robert Venturi, Vanna Venturi Hosue

Robert Venturi, Vanna Venturi House, 1959-1964