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Scott Brown, Venturi Win Joint Award

Friday, December 4, 2015

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An architect who said she was left out of receiving a major architecture award that her equal-partner husband had won 24 years ago has finally received joint honors with her husband.

Denise Scott Brown and her husband, Robert Venturi, have been chosen to receive the 2016 Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), according to an announcement made Thursday (Dec. 3).

The organization's Board of Directors said the couple was honored because their works and scholarly writings have influenced a generation of architects.

A 2013 change in AIA bylaws also means that Scott Davis becomes an AIA Honorary College of Fellows member by winning the award. Venturi already is a member of the College of Fellows with the group.

AIA / Frank Hanwijk

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, who are a husband and wife team of architects, have won their first award together as the 2016 AIA Gold Medal recipients.

The Gold Medal is the highest honor the AIA awards to architects. It acknowledges a significant body of work that has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture, according to the staement.

Scott Brown and Venturi will receive the award at the AIA annual convention set for May 19-21, in Philadelphia.

Alas, the couple receiving a joint award comes after years of one-sided recognition regarding another coveted award for architects, The Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Split Decision

When Venturi won The Pritzker in 1991, his wife—who served as an equal partner in the couple’s architecture firm VBSA—was left out. According to previous reports, that did not sit well with Scott Brown.

“They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony,” the Philadelphia architect reportedly said at the Architects Journal Women in Architecture Luncheon in March 2013. “Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity,” she said.


Although the couple are equal partners and have collaborated for years, Scott Brown was denied a Pritzker Prize in 1991 when her husband won. An effort to overturn that decision was rejected later.

Her statements prompted a group of Harvard architecture students to garner 18,000 signatures on to have Scott Brown be named a 1991 Laureate retroactively. But the award jury at that time—which changes each year—said they could not do that.

“A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so,” the jury’s chairman wrote.

However, the group did acknowledge Scott Brown’s concerns that the Pritzker was becoming a “white man’s award.”

Martha Thorne, the Pritzker Prize executive director at the time, reportedly said the group needed a “more intensive search, particularly in the field of women, recognizing that we must seek out diversity and recognize collaboration.”

AIA / Kawasumi Architectural Photograph Office

Mielparque Nikko Kirifuri Hotel and Spa is one of the team's projects. They have been recognized as contributing to nearly every area of architecture.

This time, for the AIA, things were different.

“This recognition will resonate with generations of architects,” said 2015 AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA. “What Denise and Bob have done for the profession far exceeds the completion of a great building or two.

“Through a lifetime of inseparable collaboration, they changed the way we look at buildings and cities, Richter continued. “Anything that is great in architecture today has been influenced in one way or another by their work.”

Joint Portfolio

Scott Brown was born in present-day Zambia and attended the Architectural Association in London before coming to the United States. She earned a master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania and became a teacher there. Robert Venturi was born a Quaker in Philadelphia and received undergraduate and master’s degrees in architecture from Princeton. He worked with AIA Gold Medalists Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn before winning the 1954 Rome Prize.

During the 1960s, Scott Brown and Venturi began collaborating on built projects and literature that helped establish Postmodernism.

They also are credited for contributing to nearly every other formal evolution in architecture. Their Franklin Court Independence Historic National Park in Philadelphia is one of the firm’s most successful examples of an iconic shape acting as a billboard for architecture.

AIA / Mark Cohn

Franklin Court Independence Historic National Park in Philadelphia is one of the firm’s most successful examples of an iconic shape acting as a billboard for architecture.

But much of their work has been in the suburbs. Their projects include:

  • The Best Products Showroom, in Langhorne, PA;
  • The Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London; and
  • The Provincial Capital Building in Toulouse, France.

Scott Brown and Venturi have received 17 state and local AIA awards and nine AIA National Awards. Their Vanna Venturi House received the 1989 AIA Twenty-five Year Award, and their firm was honored with the 1985 AIA Firm Award. Scott Brown received the AIA/ACSA’s Topaz Medallion in 1985.

Scott Brown and Venturi are the recipients of the 72nd AIA Gold Medal. In recognition of their legacy to architecture, their names will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.


Tagged categories: AIA Gold Medal; American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Awards and honors; Color + Design; Ethics; North America

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