The design represented by this modest cardboard study model of a house for the architect’s mother is deceptively simple. The front facade of Venturi’s design, for example, has the elements of a conventional house: a large gable, a chimney, a front door, and windows. Yet throughout the building the adept juxtaposition of big and little elements and the intentional distortion of symmetry establish a richness of meaning and perceptual ambiguity that have made the Vanna Venturi House—built in northwestern Philadelphia between 1962 and 1964—one of the most studied and referenced houses of the second half of the twentieth century. It is one of the earliest demonstrations of the architect’s highly influential theoretical propositions.
The design for the house coincided in 1961–62 with Venturi’s writing of the book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1966. This widely circulated and deeply impactful architectural critique, supported by numerous illustrations of historical buildings, sought to overturn the reductive compositional simplicity that characterized orthodox modern architecture. Instead Venturi advocated for an architecture that could “include elements that are both good and awkward, big and little, closed and open, continuous and articulated, round and square, structural and spatial” and that embraced “ambiguity and tension.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)