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Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: Selections

from a Forthcoming Book by Robert Venturi

EVDA 621: Introduction to Design Theories

Reading Summary by Sumer Matharu (10047835), 06 Oct 2016

The reading Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi is an

observation of how complexity and paradox in Architecture can be used to communicate
the program holistically and how a negating simplicity has been brought about by the
advent of Modernism.
According to Venturi, the role of Architecture is to address all aspects of programming
and requirements of the building and this takes a certain level of zooming in and out
whereby the resulting form represents a sort of tension between this inside and outside
viewpoints leading to more readable design. This takes into consideration several aspects
of the design. [pg.18]. Referring to the design philosophy by Loius Kahn, the author writes,
The recognition of complexity and contradiction in architecture does not negate what
Kahn has called the desire for simplicity. But aesthetic simplicity, which is a satisfaction
to the mind if valid and profound, derived from inner complexity. The Doric temples
simplicity to the eye is achieved through the famous subtleties and precision of its
distorted geometry. [pg. 19] In elaboration of this statement it can be understood that
simplicity, rather than ignoring and negating programmatic requirements of a building,
can rather be attained as a front-end to a more complicated back-end whereby detail and
rigour in the design can be used to achieve a holistic sense of minimalism.
Complexity does not have to be drawn out in hard lines, rather it can be induced or be
made as a natural result of the intention drawn out in the Architecture. In another instance
Venturi mentions, Sir John Soanes characteristic juxtapositions of domes and lanterns,
squinches and pendentives, varieties of geometrical shapes and directions, vestigial and
real, ornamental and structural, imply separation. [pg.27] This implication of separation
rather than the imposition of separation does not come about by simply deciding on the
program and then taking a stance, rather it comes more out of arguments and
relationships whether they be paradoxical or straightforward. An example can be
observed in the case of the Foulkways at Gwynedd Rural Housing for the Aged where
the author states, At one end the interior spatial needs of the common living room
dominate, and its form easily gives in to this circumstance and becomes rectangular. This
eventful exception strengthens the meaning of the rest of the composition. [pg. 49]
suggesting the implying of program rather than imposing it.

Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, in Perspecta Vol. 9, 1965, pp. 17-56.
Article DOI: 10.2307/1566911