Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture


Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi.

A few days ago I finished reading a book which is said to be the most important architectural theory book of the 20th Century by Le Corbusier (Vers une Architecture). On one of our reading lists it was listed next to this book by R.Venturi, and should be read in addition to it. Henceforth I decided I would read this too.

Venturi is known for having won the Pritzker Prize in 1991. Additionally he won a prize for this book - and it can be regarded as one of "the most important writing on the making of architecture since Le Corbusier's 'Vers Une Architecture', of 1923" according to Vincent Scully who wrote the introduction of this book.


Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture starts with an introduction that might be off-putting to a gullible reader. The very first words: "This is not an easy book." hints towards a fairly technical and tough book to understand, but after reading the first three chapters I wanted to know more about what his ideas were. However, if one gets easily bored of reading the book, Robert Venturis most famous quote 'less is a bore' can be spotted on the second page of the second chapter. Considering the first chapter is only one page long, arriving to the quote isn't a complicated feat.

The book is also dominated by lots of pictures. In the 132 pages or so, there are 350 annotated photographs and pictures. This might make it less of a bore to read.

Essentially the book consists of 11 chapters.

1. Non-straightforward Architecture: A Gentle Manifesto
2. Complexity and Contradiction vs. Simplification or Picturesqueness
3. Ambiguity
4. Contradictory Levels: The Phenomenon of "Both-And" in Architecture
5. Contradictory Levels Continued: The Double Functioning Element
6. Accommodation and the Limitations of Order: The Conventional Element
7. Contradiction Adapted
8. Contradiction Juxtaposed
9. The Inside and the Outside
10. The Obligation Toward the Difficult Whole
11. Works

- Personally I think the names of most of the chapters are not very inviting to read. That is why I ignored the names and simply read to understand what he meant by the name afterwards without an expectation of explanation.

I could go through all the chapters and summarize their main points, but because this book really is "not easy" I think anyone who dares read it, should at least give it a go. Simply looking at the pictures might be nice...

In the very first chapter (which is one page long) Venturi explains his 'gentle manifesto'...
'...an architecture of complexity and contradiction has a special obligation toward the whole: its truth must be in its totality or its implications of totality. It must embody the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion. More is not less'

This very last part of the first chapter refers to a quote that a famous 20th Century architect has made earlier in the Century: Mies van der Rohe. Less is more.




Scan of the first chapter of the book.

Good luck if you read this book in 2012. If you have read the book and liked it, comment below please!

Happy New Year!