Happy Birthday, Denise Scott Brown!

Ain't No Party Like a Postmodern Party

Happy Birthday, Denise Scott Brown!

Happy Birthday, Denise Scott Brown! (Courtesy

Although she was born in South Africa, Denise Scott Brown has become one of the United State’s most influential architects, a leader in postmodernism, co-author of Learning from Las Vegas (1972), a staunch advocate for women’s rights, and the mastermind behind projects such as the Sainsbury Wing of London’s National Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, the capitol in Toulouse, and Franklin Court in Philadelphia.

Today, in honor of Scott Brown’s 85th birthday, we rounded up just a few of her many notable moments over the years.

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates’ Franklin Court is a cartoonish reconstruction of the houses that sat in current-day Independence Park. The urban project won an AIA National Honor award in 1977. (Mark Cohn/Courtesy Venturi, Scott, Brown and Associates)

On her years at the University of Pennsylvania…

“Robert and I entered planning school hoping to study early modern planning ideas, like Arturo Soria y Mata’s linear city. We thought it was an interesting solution to urban-rural disconnection in mass cities. Trains, we suggested, should travel at 100 miles an hour. When teachers observed that would be too fast for transit stops, we replied, ‘That doesn’t matter!’ We were early modern machine romantics.”

On winning the Jane Drew prize…

“There is an irony in it because I knew Jane Drew. I hold very different opinions from the ones she held,” said Scott Brown, speaking to Laura Mark in the Architects’ Journal (AJ). “When we met over the years sometimes it was up and down,” Scott Brown added. “I gave a lecture once and I said something about Walter Gropius and there was a lot of shouting from the back of the room and it was Jane Drew. She was quite a down right woman and I’m a down right woman. She might mind that I have been given the prize—but I don’t. I’m very happy that people want me to have a prize and that she should have a prize named after her.”

(Courtesy AIA National via Youtube)

On winning the AIA Gold Medal…

“It was worth being a witch.”

On postmodernism…

“So we do postmodernism, Philip Johnson does pomo. It doesn’t have all that thought behind it and it doesn’t even have the thought about aesthetics that we’ve done behind it. I call pomo ‘limp,’ and think what we do is lasting and part of modernism’s long-past departure.”

Left: Denise Scott Brown. (Courtesy Parlour) Right: Paul Rudolph in 1978 (Photograph by Philip Periman, Texas Architect, Volume 5/6, 1998. (Courtesy Architectural Ruminations)

On party etiquette…

Former dean Robert A.M. Stern recounted a 1969 party in which “I had to peel Denise Scott Brown away from fighting with Paul Rudolph in my apartment over the subject of the way Denise and Bob Venturi had treated Rudolph’s Crawford Manor.” Scott Brown and Venturi had “savaged” the building in Learning From Las Vegas. Stern describes architect Ulrich Franzen telling him: “Bob, you better go into the library, Denise is about to kill Paul Rudolph.”

(Frank Hanswijk/Courtesy Venturi, Scott, Brown and Associates)

On being a woman in architecture…

“There’s a million ways to be a woman. There’s a million ways to be a mother. And there’s a million ways to be an architect.”