On Thursday, November 10, the Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, providing the 54-year-old house—which has been called “The First Postmodern Anything”—with its first preservation protection. The historical commission will now have to be consulted about any changes to the house’s exterior.
In a perfect world, the interior would be covered too, as the so-called Mother’s House without its angular stair or slot-like widow’s walk would just be a flat symbol— the kind of superficial interpretation of postmodernism Venturi and partner Denise Scott Brown have always fought against.
By coincidence, I had my first opportunity to visit the Mother’s House two days later, as part of a symposium organized by the Museum of Modern Art on Venturi’s concurrent project, the book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, which just turned 50. Along with two busloads of architects, I descended upon Chestnut Hill to shift positions within and share in the strange beauty of the small, low-ceilinged rooms of this building, iconic because it was designed to be so, but unmonumental IRL.