"Now that the "environment" has been rediscovered, it seems that the architect has never been there. Its mixed bag is not his bag at all. And because its mix is exactly what society is made of, the architect is looking more and more like a mastodon than a saviour.
Which brings us back to the Venturis. The Venturis tell us that "the world can't wait for the architect to build his utopia, and the architect's concern ought not to be with what it ought to be but with what it is - and with how to help improve it now. This is a humbler role for architects than the modern movement has wanted to accept."
To play this role, the Venturis suggest that the architect meet the environment on its own terms, because it is there. And because it is there we might study it, including the despised highway strip and the subdivision, to see what works and why. Their two eyebrow-raising studies in this vein, done as studios exercises with Yale architecture students, are called "Learning from Las Vegas" and "Learning from Levittown."
I will co clearly on the record by saying that I think these studies are brilliant. There are the inevitable blind spots of the totally committed; the fast buck has shaped the scene as much as real need. The big sign often means the big deal. There are false values behind the false fronts. But complexity and paradox are the stuff of which the Venturis are made.
Their insight and analysis, reasoned back through the history of style and symbolism and forward to the recognition of a new kind of building that responds directly to speed, mobility, the superhighway, and changing lifestyles, is the kind of art history and theory that is rarely produced. The rapid evolution of modern architecture from Le Corbusier to Brazil to Miami to the roadside motel in a brief forty-year span, with all of the behavioural aesthetics involved, is something neither architect nor historian has deigned to notice. All that has been offered by either are diatribes against the end product.
The Venturis see much of pop art in this pop scene, and they admire both. This admiration extends to the full range of expediency and mediocrity with which America has housed and serviced itself while the architect looked the other way or for "enlightened" clients. The Venturis vie with each other in the acceptance of the commonplace. And because these are cheap and practical answers, they suggest we use them.
They use them. But with such and educated filtering to suit their own subtle and ironic "pop" tastes that perversity and paradox are the name of the game. When one outraged architect called their work "dumb and ordinary," they said that in a way he had exactly gotten the point and adopted the phrase themselves."
Huxtable, Ada Louise (1971) "Plastic Flowers Are Almost All Right". En: Huxtable, Ada Louise (2008) On Architecture. Collected Reflections on a Century of Change. New York: Walker & Company.