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Book Review

Robert Venturi: Complexity and Contradiction

Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. 2nd edition. Museum of Modern Art, 1990.

The movement known as postmodern architecture evolved from the modernist movement, but often conflicts with many modernist concepts. For postmodern architects often combine new ideas with conventional forms, and postmodern constructions are often surprising, shocking, or even amusing. Postmodern architects use well-known shapes and details but utilize them in a unique manner, often to make a statement of provide pleasure for the observer. One of the most important books that illustrate the main tenets of postmodernism is Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, (1990).

Venturi’s book is divided into eleven section, from his architectural “gentle manifesto” to his listed “works.” The book has been highly influential as one of the leading texts providing the key themes and concepts of postmodern architecture. The book provides information that directly relates to its title, providing a discussion of the complexity and contradiction in postmodern architectural works and styles. Throughout the book, Venturi provides a discussion of a number of ideas while making four main points about postmodern architecture. These four points include: 1) Complexity and contradiction in architecture is preferable to oversimplification; 2) Buildings are formed of many parts which seem complex observed individually but actually form a holistic unity; 3) Architectural designs that are superficially complex do not work; and 4) Contradiction, two seemingly contradictory properties, make good architecture. The overall theme of the book is that postmodern architecture must be complex to succeed, meaning contradictions must be accepted.

Robert Venturi remains one of contemporary architecture’s most significant theorists and practitioners. In his two books Com...

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