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Talents & Masterminds: Learning from Denise Scott Brown

Anja Koller

Seven questions to mastermind Denise Scott Brown, and to Dan McCoubrey and Seth Cohen, the next generation of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates.

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Why architecture? What kind of design principles? What’s the formula for success? What’s architecture’s future role? topos had the opportunity to ask seven questions to mastermind Denise Scott Brown – architect, planner, urban designer, theorist, writer – and to Dan McCoubrey and Seth Cohen, the next generation of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, who carry on the firm’s tradition of creating places that enhance their contexts – from sensitive adaptations and additions to new buildings in historic areas.

Mastermind
Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown is an architect, planner, urban designer, theorist, writer and educator whose projects and ideas have influenced designers and thinkers worldwide. Working in collaboration with Robert Venturi over the last half century, she has guided the course of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates by serving on the broad range of the firm’s projects in architecture, and as Principal-in-Charge of urban planning, urban design and campus planning. Her experience in interdisciplinary work, teaching and research has
contributed to VSBA’s breadth and depth in architectural design.

  1. INSPIRED BY
    I’m influenced and inspired by the landscape, architecture and social life of the South Africa I grew up in, and the America I have lived in. By a wide range of people, architects and non-architects equally. And by Robert Venturi, my creative partner. He and I greatly influenced each other.
  2. WHY ARCHITECTURE?
    My mom had studied architecture! In successive grades in school, I wanted to teach, write, study languages, travel and design buildings. At the age of 40 I realized I had done them all.
  3. DESIGN PRINCIPLES?
    Already as an 11-year-old child I was inspired by “greening the world”.
  4. WHAT IS YOUR SPECIAL FOCUS?
    My particular role involves bringing things together – tying architecture and urbanism into more interesting combinations – to make beautiful and beautifully usable places.
  5. FORMULA FOR SUCCESS?
    I think holistically, learn from the environment and use my ingenuity in conjunction with others through joint creativity, which can be a great success or hell on wheels. In the process, I hope for a life of fun and challenge.
  6. OBSTACLES FOR THE PROFESSION?
    Architects say how much they love Jane Jacobs and Little Italy, but when designing they think, “What did Le Corbusier do”? Then they impose their misunderstanding of Ville Radieuse on cities all over the world.
  7. ARCHITECTURE’S FUTURE ROLE?
    Many people, not only architects, make cities and towns, which is a process spanning social questions, urban economics
    and sustainability. Architecture must deal with forces that form the city and must be a labor of love.

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Talents
Dan McCoubrey and Seth Cohen, VSBA

VSBA Architects & Planners is the next generation of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. The firm is now led by president and principal Dan McCoubrey and principal Seth Cohen. Dan was with Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates for 31 years and founded VSBA in 2012 after the retirement of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Seth is an expert in the design and renovation of academic, civic and cultural facilities, and was with Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates for 14 years. VSBA strives to create healthy, sustainable places for living, learning and working.

  1. INFLUENCED BY
    We’re fascinated by what’s come before and the variables that have shaped it, so it’s no surprise that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s inclusionary approach resonates with us.
  2. WHY ARCHITECTURE?
    Architecture is a creative and collaborative undertaking that addresses real-world needs. It starts in the abstract and becomes a concrete part of something much larger.
  3. DESIGN PRINCIPLES?
    We discover our parameters by exploring different variables and bringing a hierarchy to them. We let the design evolve as parameters reveal themselves, and we look for purpose and meaning in every design decision.
  4. WHAT IS YOUR SPECIAL FOCUS?
    We love working in layered contexts where the new can have a rich dialogue with the existing.
  5. FORMULA FOR SUCCESS?
    Be good listeners, pay attention to details, be self-critical and have fun.
  6. OBSTACLES FOR THE PROFESSION?
    Expectations of immediate visualization, the speed of communication and the desire for instant responses all threaten the reflective percolation of ideas that enriches design.
  7. ARCHITECTURE’S FUTURE ROLE?
    Successful architecture must embrace many important roles while fulfilling identified needs, but it should also be readily adaptable in order to deal with future change.

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Find this article in topos 113.

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