Although I thought I was pretty familiar with the secondary literature on the Sainsbury Wing, I happened on a lecture which Bob Venturi gave at the Royal Society of Arts just the week before the designs were made public which provides an absolutely excellent and exceptionally clear description of his approach to museum design. It includes the following paragraph, which is a particularly succinct summary of his views:-
When you enter the museum you might wonder, are you in a museum or an airport ? And by the time you reach the art, you are either worn down by the banality of the maze you have traversed, or jaded by the drama of the spatial, symbolic or chromatic fantasies the architect has ejaculated you through. The art, when you reach it, has become a kind of anti-climax — in fact, dull as you perceive it with your, by then, constricted pupils, jaded sensibilities, and loss of orientation.
This, I realise, is a good argument for not trying to be too adventurous in how the entrance hall is treated under the currently planned revision by Annabelle Selldorf, but trying to keep it as a cool, calm space without too obvious or assertive an architectural character.
 Robert Venturi, ‘From Invention to Convention in Architecture’, Journal of the Royal Society if Arts, Vol. 136, January 1988, p. 92.
2 thoughts on “The Sainsbury Wing (2)”
May I also recommend Venturi’s “Not so Gentle Manifesto” of 1994, a thinly veiled attack on Eisenman and Gehry. He regarded both as being unjustly favoured within the US academic context by the mid 90s. There Venturi advocates an architecture, “whose forms promote scenographic-trompe-l’oeil wonder – rather than abstract sculptural gesture”, “whose symbolic content is relevant and vital – rather than arbitrary-historical or stylistic-Modern” and “whose rhetorical basis is iconographic surface – rather than heroic form”. So as he turns his back on the Classical referencing, so characteristic of their earlier Pomo-Style, he also rejects current Moder-style taste-cultures in favour of possible new forms of an “architecture parlante”. In other words: architecture should not shout at us, but it should still say something about who and where we are as a society, rather than remaining entirely silent; and that includes entering into an eloquent dialogue with structures and iconographies from the past. We may not share the same level of optimism regarding the Selldorf scheme, but I will certainly keep an open mind and listen carefully if it has something relevant to say about architecture, museums, Venturi Scott Brown and us in the 21st century once it is completed. Finally I would like to say how much I enjoy our exchange of views; I hope you do not think of me as being belligerent, but rather passionate about less “neutral” approaches when it comes to museum design.
Dear Oliver, I must read it. He writes incredibly well – of course, I already knew that…. Charles