Interview: Denise Scott Brown’s Life in Second Place

Last week we wrote about a petition on that demands that the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize be retroactively awarded to Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi’s partner in the Philadelphia-based architecture firm Venturi Scott Brown (the prize went to Venturi alone that year). Those who have signed the petition–started by a group of women at Harvard’s Grad School of Design–believe Scott Brown was professionally slighted because she was seen only as Venturi’s wife. Signers include Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Venturi himself.

Scott Brown has given a frank interview to Architect Magazine about all the activity, and clarified some important points now that the movement to acknowledge her seems to have taken on a life of its own (the petition has more than 4,000 signers). She is not unaccustomed to being considered second-best, when she has been considered at all in the context of serious architecture. But the Pritzker jury is said to be considering her case.

Of Venturi’s comment on the petition (“Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner”):
“I think he did something very cool and very nice. It’s also hard for him. It’s hard on many levels. By the way, they said he is unwell. He isn’t unwell, he is just old. He doesn’t really want to be involved in architecture very much—or in this quarrel.”

On a woman’s ideas:
“My ideas went where I couldn’t go, you could say. My ideas were credited, but they were credited to Bob.”

On being pushed out:
“I thought the mantle of power covered me, too—and had I been a man, it probably would have. But all of a sudden, I am told things like, ‘This is Bob’s writing, he is just using your name.’ Or: ‘Would the ladies please move out of the picture so we can have the architects?’ I would say, ‘I am an architect.’ And they’d say, ‘Would you move out of the picture, please?'”

On Philip Johson:
“Philip Johnson used to say, ‘We’re all going to go to the Century Club—the architects, but not their wives. And we’re going to wear evening dress and we’re going to talk about architecture.’ So they invited Bob. The person who called said to me, ‘I’m embarrassed to have reached you, Denise, I wanted Bob. You can’t come to this meeting because you’re a wife.'”

On what happens with the petition:
“My huge reward in life has been that clients of complex projects have trusted me with a design—and then it’s come out the way I intended it to be…Another big reward now is that 4,000 people have sent a petition and are expressing outrage. That’s a real big reward. That’s real validation—as important, at least, as winning the prize.”

More with Denise Scott Brown, including an anecdote about a man spilling a drink down her dress as he spouted Italian profanity:

Q&A: Denise Scott Brown [Architect]