Historic Designation on the Way for Vanna Venturi House; Duo Honored With AIA Gold Medal

An architectural treasure will be added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Place, just as Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi were awarded with top honor.

The Vanna Venturi House | Photos: Steve Davis and Steven Goldblatt, via Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty Read more at https://www.phillymag.com/property/2015/07/15/vanna-venturi-house/#hQxCFLwdxrmuE0EX.99

The Vanna Venturi House | Photos: Steve Davis and Steven Goldblatt, via Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty

It turns out that 2015 has been an pivotal year at 8330 Millman Street in Chestnut Hill–the site of the landmark Vanna Venturi House.

Designed by Robert Venturi for his mother between 1959 and 1964, “Mother’s House,” as it’s known, was listed for sale in July for $1,750,000. That’s news enough for those looking to live in a bonafide piece of architectural history, but now steps have been taken to preserve the home for generations to come.

Only two owners have called it home over the years–Vanna Venturi and the Hughes family, who have meticulously cared for the home–and it’s availability on the open market has hastened the efforts to protect what many view as an icon. As Ashley Hahn of PlanPhilly points out, that important move is on the way, as the Philadelphia Historical Commission accepted its nomination to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places this week:

The designation of “Mother’s House” has long been a priority in Philadelphia’s preservation community. But, Cooperman said, “There hasn’t been any real concern in the past because Tom Hughes and Agatha [Hughes] have been such remarkable owners. To call them stewards doesn’t really do justice because they love the house and have done more than right by it.”

For more on its designation, and the efforts being made to preserve the many historic homes in Chestnut Hill, check out Hahn’s story here.

The designation of the Vanna Venturi House was followed by news that the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects voted to award the 2016 AIA Gold Medal to Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi–the first duo in the history receive the award. The award also means that Scott Brown will now be automatically elevated to become an honorary member of the AIA College of Fellows.

According to the press release from the AIA, The Gold Medal “acknowledges a significant body of work that has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” Venturi’s work with Mother’s House is considered to be the first example of Postmodern architecture. Scott Brown and Venturi married in 1967, and their scholarly writings and portfolio of work “set the stage for Postmodernism and nearly every other formal evolution in architecture,” said the AIA.

The AIA updated its bylaws in 2013 to open nominations for the Gold Medal award from a single architect to a pair of architects, says Architect Magazine, making this an even bigger deal for Scott Brown and Venturi, who long fought to have the nominations include the collective work of a team of architects :

“The Gold Medal nod comes two and a half years after a controversy surrounding Scott Brown’s exclusion from Venturi’s 1991 Pritzker Prize was reignited by a change.org petition that called for acknowledgement of Scott Brown by the committee quickly garnered thousands of signatures. In June 2013, after several months of speculation, the Pritzker Prize committee decided not to retroactively recognize Scott Brown.”

Scott Brown and Venturi were also nominated the previous year, another first in the award’s 68-year history, when Moshe Safdie took home the top honor in a hotly contested vote that lasted multiple rounds.

“This recognition will resonate with generations of architects,” said 2015 AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, in the release. “What Denise and Bob have done for the profession far exceeds the completion of a great building or two. Through a lifetime of inseparable collaboration, they changed the way we look at buildings and cities. Anything that is great in architecture today has been influenced in one way or another by their work.”

The husband and wife team will received the award at AIA’s annual convention in Philadelphia in May, and their names will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of AIA’s headquarters in Washington D.C.