At long last, Denise Scott Brown has been given her due. This afternoon, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced Scott Brown and her husband and partner Robert Venturi as recipients of the 2016 AIA Gold Medal, the organization’s highest honor.
The announcement follows years of campaigning by the architecture community for a retroactive Prizker Architecture Prize for Scott Brown alongside Venturi, who was awarded the prize separately in 1991. “There were a lot of people who were really passionate about them getting recognize as a team,” says architect Caroline James, who was present for the announcement in Washington, D.C.
James with Harvard Graduate School of Design classmate Arielle Assouline-Lichten spearheaded efforts to get the Pritzker Prize to acknowledge Scott Brown. While thrilled about the Gold Medal announcement, James says they will continue to petition for Scott Brown’s recognition by the prize’s committee.
Tonight in Philadelphia, Scott Brown and Venturi are celebrating the announcement over champagne, vanilla ice cream, and pizza.
“When I heard the voice of the AIA president [Elizabeth Chu Richter] on the phone, there was such joy in her voice that I was suspicious,” Scott Brown says. “They were clapping on the phone when they told us. It felt like a real wave of joy.”
Scott Brown and Venturi began their partnership in the 1960s. Over the course of their joint careers, the couple designed dozens of projects and master plans including the Mielparque Nikko Kirifuri Hotel and Spa in Japan, Franklin Court in Philadelphia, the Episcopal Academy Chapel in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing in London. The Vanna Venturi house (1964), in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania is viewed as a major catalyst of the postmodernist movement, along with Venturi's seminal work Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966.
Venturi and Scott Brown enjoyed substantive academic roles at institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and Harvard. In 1968, while at the Yale School of Architecture, the pair taught an influential third-year studio course with Steven Izenour on Las Vegas, which spawned the significant 1972 book, Learning From Las Vegas.
Scott Brown is the first living woman to receive the award (Julia Morgan posthumously received the honor in 2014). The architect recalls past Gold Medal nominations, but as a duo, the pair was not eligible for the prize, historically awarded to a single architect. “Bob said, ‘Not without Denise,’” she says. “There were people who said that Bob was being quixotic and that I was being selfish.”
But the architect was enthusiastic about the award, both of her firm and for women in the profession. “There is no bitterness in any of this. It’s wonderful for what’s going to happen to architecture, but it’s still going to take a struggle.”
Also this afternoon, Seattle-based LMN Architects received the 2016 Architecture Firm Award. The multi-disciplinary design studio, founded in 1979, has been responsible for projects including the Vancouver Convention Centre West, a plan for Cleveland’s civic core, Seattle’s Foster School of Business, and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio.
The AIA also honored Douglas S. Kelbaugh with the 2016 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion; R. Steven Lewis with the 2016 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award; and Terrance J. Brown with the 2016 Kemper Award.