Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bob and Denise: Feted in Washington, Rejected in Chestnut Hill

Is that Philadelphia's own Bob Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
with First Lady Laura Bush? Yes, it is. The architects were at the White House on Wednesday for the National Design Awards. They received the "Design Mind" award for their career achievements, as the Washington Post reports. The award, which I wrote about in May, is sponsored by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, a part of the Smithsonian. In the past, the awards event has usually occurred in the Cooper-Hewitt's New York outpost. When I saw the press release last week saying the awards would be presented in Washington, D. C., at the White House no less, I wondered briefly if the Quaker-bred Venturi might refuse to attend, as a protest against President Bush's blundering aggression in Iraq. Now that would have been a good story.
Of course, it's nice to see Venturi and Scott Brown, who may be America's most important living architectural thinkers, get this recognition. Here in Philadelphia, it's become a struggle for them to win new commissions. While Venturi is putting the finishing touches on a chapel for Episcopal Academy's new campus, the saga of the pair's Woodmere Art Museum addition continues to drag on and on. Days ago, neighborhood opponents won a surprise victory when Commonwealth Court ordered the Chestnut Hill case back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The museum, which owns a very good collection of eastern Pennsylvania artists, must decide between appealing to the state Supreme Court, taking the case back the the Zoning Board, or asking Commonwealth Court to give the issues a second look. See the Chestnut Hill Local for all the legal ins and outs.
After seven years of legal battles, perhaps it's time for Woodmere to reassess. Isn't there an empty spot on the Parkway, where the Calder Museum was supposed to go? This low-slung building would look pretty nice there all by itself - better, even. Unlike the neighbors in Chestnut Hill, the parkway crowd would probably welcome the Woodmere with open arms.


Blogger rasphila said...

While we were up at Woodmere for an exhibit, we had a look at a model of the proposed edition that is on display there. I can't figure out what the objection to the addition is. It is very nicely done, wouldn't intrude on the neighbors, and doesn't in any way overwhelm the current building. So what's the fuss? I don't know.

The current Woodmere building, by the way, has one problem that nobody talks about: there is no pedestrian entrance. Woodmere is only a short walk from the R8 train terminus and the 23 bus depot, so at least some people will arrive there on foot, as we did. We had to walk up a driveway with no sidewalks. We left by cutting across the lawn. Neither option was particularly attractive to visitors on foot.

The proposed extension doesn't address the lack of pedestrian access, which wasn't its purpose, but somebody at Woodmere should. A pedestrian entrance and sidewalk would be cheap and easy to create, although knowing Chestnut Hill, somebody would be sure to object.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Davis! Venturi & Scott are two of the most over rated hack architects! If any of the other individuals posting comments here actually understood what Mayor Dilworth did for Philadelphia in terms of revitalization and Washington Square in particular they might not be in such a rush to tear down his house only to replace it with the piece of crap proposed by Venturi & Scott!

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do Mr. & Mrs. Venturi continue to push for projects that break the law???

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enough with the paste on facades and stripes. Post Modern's allusion to humanistic and historical values always suffered in reality and it should acknowledge how mean spirited and "dumb" it's POP IRONY was.

Post Modern is dead and honestly
Philadelphia has suffered enough from this style and political agenda. It's hard to blame VSB because they are one of the few firms with any integrity.

This was everywhere in Philadelphia through the 80's and 90's being championed at Penn, Temple, and Drexel. Look at all the bad towers starting with Liberty Place...yak.
And all that vinyl clad infill housing ( mimicing suburbia) with tacked on ornament.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous scott b said...

Back in the 70s, when we declared the premature death of Modernism, Venturi was a rare architect who taught us to look seriously at context and historic precedent - and maybe leave our egos at the door. The Woodmere model shows a sadly typical response to an old building. It ignores it and does something completely different. Too bad.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must wonder why Ms. Saffron constantantly pushes for V&SB, just read the comments published here and they might explain why they don't have what you deem a "major building".

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because I no longer live in the Chestnut Hill area, I am not up on all the details of the arguments. But I will say that is a shame for the community not to fully support an expansion of Woodmere. It's a surprisingly fine regional museum, and it's an asset to its neighborhood. And it's also a shame to see the Venturi design in limbo.

Say what you will about the exteriors of Venturi & Scott-Brown's buildings - yes, not to everyone's taste - but they know about museums. I hope the critics would have the chance to consider the quality of the visitor experience in two museums the firm has designed - the extension to the National gallery in London and the Seattle Art Museum. I have visited both more than once, and I am always impressed by their wonderful interiors that are designed to showcase the ART not the architecture. They are filled with interesting flows and connections among galleries, yet the art is always the star of the show.

It's an impressive feat, especially when you see other new museums - like the just-opened deYoung in San Francisco or even the expanded MOMA - whose interiors have all the charm of the buildings you find in corporate office parks.

Chestnut Hill could hardly ask for better - if the community really cares about having a good art museum to call its own. If not, then that's a different story...

On a related note, I hope the Venturis have the chnace to design the new Barnes Foundation on the Parkway. The firm did the renovation of the existing Barnes, so I have no doubt they would treat that collection with great sensitivity.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was upset that the Calder Museum never got through. It would have been an asset.

Great idea though Inga!! The more there is to do on the Parkway, the better...people can make a night of it (hotel's win) then walk or take a cab to the fabulous restaurants and cafes of Rittenhouse, WashWest, Center City, and Old City.

So let's hope for some great project at Family Court.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Philadelphian's don't like change or anything that is different...
unless you cram it down their throats.
to say that V&B are not world class Architects is to basically say the rest of the world is crazy and we are not.

really tired of the "everything sux" attitude.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Davis said...

The problem with VSB is that most of what they propose for Philly is tied to restrictive budgets. The London National Gallery is wonderful, but nothing they've proposed for this town ever comes close - probably due to budget again. The Seattle museum has been extensively re-worked from the original.

Their interiors are indeed excellent, perhaps they should pursue interior design.

4:35 PM  

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