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.”
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.
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.