Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, “On Ducks and Decoration” (1968)


In an article entitled “A significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas” published in Architectural Forum in March 1968 and written by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the incipient populism of Venturi’s earlier Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture came to fruition. The authors would test their ideas in a design studio and field study conducted with Steven Izenour at Yale School of Architecture that fall, publishing it in 1972 in book form as learning from las Vegas, along with two other chapters: one a more generalized argument derived from the first, entitled “Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed,” the other a catalog of buildings designed by the Venturi firm — “Some Decorated Sheds” — from 1965 on. The following article by Scott Brown represents the first formulation of the decorated shed thesis.

On Ducks and Decoration

Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi


Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown explore the idea of the decorations of the building and the interpretation of it by architects of movements of international style, brutalism, and the necessity of the new look at the American pop architecture. Even though modern architects believed that in the machine age the idea of a building decoration was supposed to be left behind and the functional requirement was the only important aspect, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown believed in the importance of having at least some philosophy about the form of the structure. They catch avant-garde architects, under the influence of the contemporary paintings, cubism, and constructivist sculpture movement, developing functional buildings with a “bad space”, and building strange distorting things not as a decoration but for an appearance. Authors conclude that commercial architecture needs to be reconsidered allowing for symbolism and mixed media, as well as that the idea of decoration needs to be brought back. They separated two styles, where the first one is the sign which is the building, and the second is the sign which fronts the building. In the new commercial architecture, decorations are a separate structure allowing buildings and signs to be semi-independent.


Only after reading the chapter I fully realized that what first came from the exploration of new ideas, arts, and forms, now is an inseparable part of the commercial architecture movement where it is cheaper and easier to make mainstream buildings that lack decorative elements to prolong a functionality of a place, generalizing its use and allowing a variety of signs and decorations to be applied throughout the building lifetime.



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