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The Vanna Venturi House (All images courtesy Michael Colavita and Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty)

Want to own a house that changed the urban landscape of the United States? Pritzker-winning architect Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi House — arguably the first post-modernist building ever — has appeared on the market for the first time since 1973.

Venturi began designing the five-bedroom house in 1959, incorporating many of the ideas that he later laid out in his manifesto Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966). “Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture,” Ventur, then 36 years old, wrote. “I like elements which are hybrid rather than ‘pure,’ compromising rather than ‘clear,’ distorted rather than ‘straightforward.’ … I am for messy vitality over obvious unity.”

The Vanna Venturi House

Following Venturi’s preferences, the house contains many decorative, contradictory features. It has a stairway that goes nowhere, a fireplace much too big for the room, and an archway that serves no structural purpose — all clearly meant to give the bird to Modernism and the simplicity and functionalism it championed.

Interestingly, the sale from Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty comes at a time when Modernist architect is enjoying a widespread revival. You can’t thumb through the pages of an architectural magazine without seeing the flat roofs and floor-to-ceiling windows that were its hallmarks. And the depressing legacy of the postmodernist architecture that Venturi pioneered has become all too obvious — suburban tracts of ugly, neo-eclectic houses and uninspired office buildings.

The Vanna Venturi House

Still, the house has an incredible historic value. PBS once included it in its list of the top 10 buildings that changed America, ranking it among the likes of Thomas Jefferson’s Old Virginia State Capital, Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building, and Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building. In 1989, the American Institute of Architects gave the house the Twenty-five Year Award for being a project that has “stood the test of time,” and it was even featured on a 2005 United States postal stamp.

Historic plaque at the Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

The Vanna Venturi House

h/t ArchDaily

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

5 replies on “The Postmodern House That Changed the US Is Now for Sale”

  1. Another chip in the pile of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”…

  2. Did this really inspire the suburban dreck out there? Civic architecture is a whole different story and Venturi is responsible for inspiring architectural marvels like the one below, in my hometown (notice the pink relief colonnades? Postmodern!). Cheap traditionalism in suburban housing on the other hand was its own reaction to modernism with no real connection to postmodernism, other than being more or less contemporaneous. People wanted houses that looked like old houses and developers wanted to build them on this cheap. It was both reactionary and cynical. If more houses actually looked like Venturi’s, suburbia would be more interesting (it’s a beautiful building). Well, intellectually, suburbia is interesting. It just sucks to live there.

  3. form over function and even the form sucks… as Bucky Fuller so aptly perceived the slower the object moves the slower it evolves. artists should be able to see through this conundrum and produce incredible function with beautiful form emphasizing sustainability and truly evolve to serve our life on Earth. however capitalism can’t allow an evolution to sustainability and filters out all artists and movements in this direction by defunding, ignoring and marginalizing. this “product” is a perfect example of the obsolescence of capitalism and it’s pathetic products being sold to us on a pedestal. capitalism is obsolete as all of it’s vaunted producers and sales participants.

  4. He built THIS for his Mom? He must have hated his mom. If he loved her he would have put in an elevator and made the whole thing much easier to move around in, especially the doorway to the 2nd floor patio.

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