London Gallery Betts Project is showcasing photographs from Denise Scott Brown, marking the architect, planner, and theorist’s first solo exhibition in the U.K. Titled Denise Scott Brown: Wayward Eye, the exhibition features photos taken between 1956 and 1966 that illustrate Scott Brown’s explorations into urbanism, Pop Art, and the emerging architectural language of roadside America, ideas which would later be collected in Learning from Las Vegas published in 1972.
“Such a study will help to define a new type of urban form emerging in American and Europe, radically different from that we have known; one that we have been ill-equipped to deal with and that, from ignorance, we define today as urban sprawl,” Scott Brown wrote in 1977 in the abridged Learning from Las Vegas.
“I’m not a photographer. I shoot for architecture—if there’s art here it’s a byproduct,” Scott Brown told curators Marie Coulon and Andrés F Ramirez at Betts Project this year. “Yet the images stand alone. Judge what you see.”
The photos provide insight into how Scott Brown, Venturi Izenour, and their students dissected commercial strips. Never before had such mundane elements been looked at through an architectural lens: a nondescript shot of a Dodge Charger driving down an L.A. freeway is deliciously titled Industrial Romanticism, while another features an equally unremarkable image from a water taxi in Venice.
“For Robert Venturi and me, these sequences from Venice to Venice, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas provided inspiration and they still do. And via them, architectural photography initiated a move beyond beauty shots and data. Over the last 60 years, by adding analysis, synthesis, recommendation, and design, it has gone from tool to subdiscipline in architecture.
“In 1965, after ten years of urbanism, my foci were automobile cities of the American Southwest, social change, multiculturalism, action, everyday architecture, ‘messy vitality,’ iconography, and Pop Art.
“Waywardness lay in more than my eye,” Scott Brown continued. “Do I hate it or love it? ‘Don’t ask,’ said my inner voice. ‘Just shoot.’”
Scott Brown’s work doesn’t come around to London often. She came to the city in 1952 (when her surname was Lakofski) to work for the modern architect Frederick Gibberd before studying at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. She returned with her husband Venturi to work on the Sainsbury Wing of London’s National Gallery in 1991 after the infamous Carbuncle incident.
Denise Scott Brown: Wayward Eye runs through July 28 and comes with a catalog, published by PLANE—SITE, featuring texts by Scott Brown and Andrés F Ramirez.