by Denise Scott Brown
Architecture's communicative function was disregarded throughout the first half of the twentieth century. During the 1950s, Robert Venturi and I independently developed a strong interest in it. In the mid 1960s, we looked for a site where we could study architectural communication somewhat separately from architecture's other functions and away from complex urban patterns that would make the communication systems less clear. We found it in the Nevada desert on the Las Vegas strip.
The idea of the building as a shed with communication on it has influenced all our work but particularly our civic buildings. The changeable nature of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) permits quick shifts in communication, almost as events happen. Electronic banners have the same immediacy as flags or flowers.
They stand in contrast to the masonry of the buildings, much as the blossoms on the altar stood against the thousand-year-old temple, and they permit an immediacy and variability of urban communication that would astound architectural propagandists of earlier eras, who incised their messages in stone.
A question for the future might be whether architects will be prepared to surrender the creative tasks of symbolic communication via architecture to the graphic artists who design the LED messages. Will we (or our clients) want this major element of the building to be expressed through a medium that is innately not subject to control? >>>
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This article is excerpted from Architecture as Signs and Systems for a Mannerist Time by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, with permission of the publisher, Harvard University Press, Inc.
The Hôtel du Département de la Haute-Garonne is a provincial administrative center in Toulouse, France, designed by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates.
Photo: GrandRond Photography
North elevation of the Hôtel du Département de la Haute-Garonne. There was need for formal space outdoors and for entry places for the public arriving by foot or car.
Photo: Matt Wargo for VSBA
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