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Denise Scott Brown
Denise Scott Brown.jpg
Denise Scott Brown on her 81st Birthday
Denise Lakofski

(1931-10-03) October 3, 1931 (age 92)
Nkana, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia)
Nationality South African
Alma mater University of the Witwatersrand
Architectural Association School of Architecture
University of Pennsylvania
Occupation Architect
Robert Scott Brown
(m. 1955; died 1959)
(m. 1967; died 2018)
Parent(s) Simon Lakofski
Phyllis Hepker
Practice Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates
Venturi and Rauch
Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown (née Lakofski; born October 3, 1931) is an American architect, planner, writer, educator, and principal of the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in Philadelphia. Scott Brown and her husband and partner, Robert Venturi (1925-2018), are regarded as among the most influential architects of the twentieth century, both through their architecture and planning, and theoretical writing and teaching.


Born to Jewish parents Simon and Phyllis (Hepker) Lakofski, Denise Lakofski had the vision from the time she was five years old that she would be an architect. Pursuing this goal, she spent her summers working with architects, and from 1948 to 1952, after attending Kingsmead College, studied in South Africa at the University of the Witwatersrand. She briefly entered liberal politics, but was frustrated by the lack of acceptance of women in the field. Lakofski traveled to London in 1952, working for the modernist architect Frederick Gibberd. She continued her education there, winning admission to the Architectural Association School of Architecture to learn “useful skills in the building of a just South Africa,” within an intellectually rich environment which embraced women. She was joined there by Robert Scott Brown, whom she had met at Witwatersrand in 1954, and graduated with a degree in architecture in 1955.

Denise Lakofski and Robert Scott Brown were married on July 21, 1955. The couple spent the next three years working and traveling throughout Europe and part of their trip was to Italy with an itinerary devised by their close friend, the architectural historian Robin Middleton with whom they had studied in South Africa and met up with again in London. In 1958, they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to study at the University of Pennsylvania's planning department. In 1959, Robert died in a car accident. Denise Scott Brown completed her master's degree in city planning in 1960 and, upon graduation, became a faculty member at the university.

Academic career

While teaching, she completed a master's degree in architecture. At a 1960 faculty meeting, she argued against demolishing the university's library (now the Fisher Fine Arts Library), designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness. At the meeting, she met Robert Venturi, a young architect and fellow professor. The two became collaborators and taught courses together from 1962 to 1964. Scott Brown left the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. Becoming known as a scholar in urban planning, she taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and was then named co-chair of the Urban Design Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. During her years in the Southwest, Scott Brown became interested in the newer cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She invited Venturi to visit her classes at UCLA, and in 1966 asked him to visit Las Vegas with her. The two were married in Santa Monica, California, on July 23, 1967. Scott Brown moved back to Philadelphia in 1967 to join Robert Venturi's firm, Venturi and Rauch, and became principal in charge of planning in 1969. Denise Scott Brown later taught at Yale University, where she developed courses that encouraged architects to study problems in the built environment employing both traditional empirical methods of social science but also media studies and pop culture. In 2003 she was a visiting lecturer with Venturi at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

Architecture and planning

Denise Scott Brown 1978 © Lynn Gilbert
Denise Scott Brown in 1978, photographed by Lynn Gilbert

In 1972, with Venturi and Steven Izenour, Scott Brown wrote Learning From Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. The book published studies of the Las Vegas Strip, undertaken with students in an architectural research studio course which Scott Brown taught with Venturi in 1970 at Yale's School of Architecture and Planning. The book coined the terms "Duck" and "Decorated Shed" as applied to opposing architectural styles. Scott Brown has remained a prolific writer on architecture and urban planning. The book joined Venturi's previous Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (Museum of Modern Art, 1966) as a rebuke to orthodox modernism and elite architectural tastes, and a pointed acceptance of American sprawl and vernacular architecture.

Scott Brown and Venturi strove for understanding the city in terms of social, economic and cultural perspectives, viewing it as a set of complex systems upon planning. As part of their design process, the Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates firm studies the trends of an area, marking future expansions or congestions. These studies influence plans and design makeup. Such an approach was used for their Berlin Tomorrow Competition, putting the population movement and daily pattern in consideration. Similarly, the Bryn Mawr College plan took into consideration the landmark of the early campus and the usages of campus space prior to planning. Scott Brown holds a systematic approach to planning in what is coined as “FFF studios.” In it, form, forces and function determine and help define the urban environment. For example, the Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates firm studied both the expansion of Dartmouth College campus along with the wilderness surrounding the perimeter of the area.

The fusion of Eastern and Western ideas in the Nikko hotel chain are evident by merging the Western notion of comfort (62 Stanislaus Von Moos) with historical kimono patterns with their hidden order. The architecture applies a post-Las Vegas modern feel while projecting the traditional Japanese shopping street. Guest rooms are typically made with Western taste, with fabrics, wallpaper, and carpet exclusively from the Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates firm that reflect the scenery outside. In contrast, the exterior “street” complex reflects Japanese urban and traditional life.

With the firm, renamed Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in 1980, and finally Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in 1989, Scott Brown has led major civic planning projects and studies, and more recently has directed many university campus planning projects. By the beginning of the 1980s, Venturi and Scott Brown had made huge success with their ideas and concepts. Critics characterized them as the most influential and visionary architects of the time and continued their path with a clear approach, with their radical theories of design. She has also served as principal-in-charge with Robert Venturi on the firm's larger architectural projects, including the Sainsbury Wing of London's National Gallery, the seat of the departmental council in Toulouse and the Nikko Hotel and Spa Resort in Japan.

Room at the top

In 1989, Scott Brown published her famous essay, "Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture". Although Scott Brown wrote the essay in 1975, she decided not to publish it at the time, out of fear for damaging her career. The essay describes her struggle to be recognized as an equal partner of the firm, in an architecture world that was predominantly male. She has since been an advocate for Women in Architecture and has spoken out about discrimination within the profession on several accounts.

Architecture projects

Awards and recognition

  • Jane Drew Prize; 2017
  • European Cultural Centre Architecture Award; 2016
  • AIA Gold Medal; 2016 (with Robert Venturi)
  • Edmund N. Bacon Prize, Philadelphia Center for Architecture; 2010
  • Design Mind Award, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards; 2007 (with Robert Venturi)
  • Athena Medal, Congress for the New Urbanism; 2007
  • Vilcek Prize in Architecture, The Vilcek Foundation; 2007
  • Membership, American Philosophical Society; 2006
  • The Carpenters' Company Master Builder Award; 2005
  • Harvard Radcliffe Institute Medal; 2005
  • Visionary Woman Award , Moore College of Art & Design; 2003
  • Vincent Scully Prize, National Building Museum; 2002 (with Robert Venturi)
  • Topaz Medallion, American Institute of Architects; 1996
  • National Medal of Arts, United States Presidential Award; 1992 (with Robert Venturi)
  • Chicago Architecture Award, 1987
  • ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) Distinguished Professor Award; 1986-87
  • AIA Firm Award, to Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown; 1985

Alongside Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel and Cornelia Oberlander, she is one of four prominent female architects profiled in the 2018 documentary film City Dreamers.

Published works

  • Denise Scott Brown, Having Words (London: Architectural Association, 2009)
  • Denise Scott Brown, Room at the top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture, 1989, in: RENDELL, J., PENNER, B. and BORDEN, I. (ed.): Gender Space Architecture. An Interdisciplinary Introduction, Routhledge, New York, 2000, p 258-265
  • Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, (with Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour), Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972; revised edition 1977. ISBN: 0-262-72006-X
  • A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays, 1953–1984, (with Robert Venturi), New York: Harper & Row, 1984. ISBN: 0-06-438851-4
  • Urban Concepts, Architectural Design Profile 60: January–February 1990. London: Academy Editions; distributed in U.S. by St. Martin's Press. ISBN: 0-85670-955-7
  • Architecture as Signs and Systems: for a Mannerist Time (with Robert Venturi), Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN: 0-674-01571-1
  • The art in waste (article), In:Distoriones urbanas / Urban Distorisions, Madrid: Basurama, 2006. ISBN: 978-84-95321-85-5
  • On Public Interior Space (with Maurice Harteveld), In: AA Files 56, London: Architectural Association Publications, 2007.

See also

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