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LEARNING FROM BOB AND DENISE explores the complex and contradictory world of the architects, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.  Husband and wife partners, they are widely considered among the most influential designers of the 20th century. In their provocative parlance, vulgar is good, tasteful is bad, and the ugly and ordinary almost always triumphs over the heroic and original.  Architects, writers, and philosophers of sorts, Venturi and Scott Brown are radicals in architecture and urban planning.  Although their early buildings and the theories espoused in their books, Complexity and Contradiction and Learning from Las Vegas, have been absorbed in mainstream architectural practice, they shocked the modernist establishment of the 1960s.  

At that time of social protest, Venturi and Scott Brown crafted a new approach: “Learning from.”  Departing from late modern architecture, which they found simplistic and alienating, they embraced many sources for architectural learning: Rome, Gestalt psychology, the pop-art movement, the social sciences, the American West and even early modern architecture.  These sources helped them to rediscover what they called the forgotten symbolism of architecture, a concept that modern architects had rejected in favor of an abstract aesthetic.  Even as their ideas gained currency, they pursued a career working outside the architectural power center.  Their portfolio spans Venturi’s 1964 “Mother’s House” (now on a US postage stamp) to the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London (1991) and to recent work in Japan, France and across the United States.                                

This film is the story of their struggle, their ideas, and the meshing of the two in their architecture.  The couple’s work and theories have been widely misinterpreted.  While Venturi is credited as the father of postmodernism, he feels this movement perverted his ideas rather than embraced them.  As Bob rose to fame, however, Denise remained unrecognized as a full design partner.  The film will explore this inequity, her pioneering role for women in the field, and the “star system” that propagates the myth of the “guru architect” over the reality of shared creativity in collaborative design.  This story will be told via the firm’s buildings and by interviews with the two subjects, their coworkers, clients, colleagues, friends, and critics.  The filmmaker, their son, hopes this film will inspire those whose ideas go beyond what the dominant culture promotes. 

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