Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

10 Things I learned at the Vanna Venturi House

Vanna Venturi, at her house. Courtesy VSBA.

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.