Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown: Hintergrund 56
Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum with Denise Scott Brown
Architekturzentrum Wien & Park Books, March 2019
Paperback | 6-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches | 176 pages | 332 illustrations | English | ISBN: 9783038601272 | $39.00
Denise Scott Brown has shaped the course of contemporary architecture since the 1960s. She is particularly well known for Learning from Las Vegas, an enormously successful research project with her companion in life and work, Robert Venturi, and Steven Izenour, which challenged the way many architects saw the city. Widely cited and sometimes misunderstood, Scott Brown’s insistence that we cast a critical eye on modernism ignorant of context, history, and joint creativity remains impactful today. As a new generation of architects and urban planners face a new set of environments and challenges, the time has never been more ripe to rediscover her undogmatic formal language and careful urban interventions.
The first book to focus exclusively on Denise Scott Brown, Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown reaches beyond that foundational part of her work. It offers an entirely new way to view her achievements more broadly as an architect, urban planner, theorist, and educator. The book takes readers through her childhood in 1930s South Africa and her education in 1950s England, to her well-known work in photography, her writings and studies, and her work as an architect and urban planner on four continents. Lavishly illustrated, the book features a wealth of previously unpublished material, most of it in full color.
From November 22, 2018, to March 24, 2019, the Architekturzentrum Wien (AzW) hosted Downtown Denise Scott Brown, “the world’s first extensive solo exhibition on the work of this today 87-year-old architect, urban planner, educator and writer.” I didn’t see the exhibition in person, but the companion catalog, “Your Guide to” the exhibition, does a great job of putting people like me inside the exhibition — much better than anything I’ve ever encountered. It starts with a plan (first spread below) of the “piazza” with a “fountain” at its center (really an “I AM A MONUMENT” sign topped by an electronic display) and “shops, cafes, markets, and signs” at the perimeter. The exhibition and design, by Jeremy Tenenbaum with Denise Scott Brown and AzW curators Angelika Fitz and Katharina Ritter, strove to create a place, with the displays acting like shop windows giving peeks into the life of Scott Brown — both alone and with Robert Venturi. To me it sounds and looks like a highly accessible way of telling a life’s story, one fitting to a famous but also overlooked and misunderstood architect.
The book is equally accessible. It is organized into five color-coded sections: Your Quick Guide (orange), Welcome Downtown (green), Up and Down Downtown (red), DSB A to Z (light green), and Beyond Downtown (pink). The bulk of the book, about 100 pages of it, is Up and Down Downtown, which goes one by one through the parts labeled on the exhibition floor plan. Each part includes the words of Scott Brown, as interviewed by Tenenbaum. Her words are accompanied by lots of color photos (meaning, in turn, very little white space) that include not only those of Denise and her buildings, but also the exhibition’s shop windows. The last provide the only literal views inside the exhibition, but if we go Beyond Downtown (to #denisescottbrown_azw and #uglyinstagram_azw on Instagram) we can see how visitors saw the exhibition — and saw themselves as “monuments” in the center of an exhibition devoted to an icon.
Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum is a writer, visual artist, and graphic designer and has been working for both Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates and its successor, VSBA Architects & Planners for nearly two decades.