Denise Scott Brown

Nathalie G. Latour

Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown in Las Vegas, 1968
Denise Scott Brown in Las Vegas, 1968

Denise Scott Brown is a major American female architect of the 21st century. As well as an architect, she is an urban planner and designer, a writer, and an educator. Her architectural planning and design firm, Ventri, Scott Brown and Associates in Philadelphia, specialize in academic and institutional designing and planning, both nationally and internationally. Born in Northern Rhodesia in 1931, Scott Brown (nee Lakofski) had a long college career in South Africa, London, and Philadelphia, and a long teaching career in Philadelphia and California. She would later write in 1972 a book with her husband and firm co-founder Robert Ventri, and another American architect Steven Izenour, called Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Learning from Las Vegas as well as other pieces of writing taught generations of students and architects to look at the every day American landscape in a whole new way.

Both Denise Scott Brown and her partner and husband Robert Ventri are known as the postmodern architectural pioneers. Their firm’s founding values are to “bring creative design, thoughtful analysis, and responsive service” to their clients and projects(VSBA, ’14). Some of her most well-known works, like the Seattle Art Museum and the Sainsbury wing of the National Gallery of London, were known to be examples of backlash against modernism. She and Ventri admire the past architectural revolutionaries of Modernism, but they believe in moving forward and progressing from that, and acknowledging the American landscape and the commercial direction it is heading towards. What is most important to Scott Brown’s architectural beliefs is learning from pop culture and the everyday landscape, as well as learning from symbolism and iconography, specifically in pop culture. She wrote an article in 1971 called Learning from Pop, and she believes learning from pop culture is relative because it is telling what people are interested in and what they want. “Another source is physical backgrounds in the mass media, movies, soap operas, pickle and furniture polish ads. Here the aim is not to sell houses but something else, and the background represents someone’s idea of what a pickle buyers or soap opera watchers want in a house”(Scott Brown, 1971).

In Learning from Las Vegas Scott Brown and Ventri analyze the architectural space of the Las Vegas strip, and study how it functions as an open, commercial, car-friendly space. Her ideas and theories in this book were also considered to be criticisms of modern or fine architecture. It is a road with heavily ornamented signs and exteriors, completely based on symbolism and images, elaborate lights, and short information one can recognize from a far distance. While these signs and exteriors are heavily designed to attract, the interiors or actual buildings are ugly and ordinary; Ventri calls these “Decorated Sheds”. Still today Scott Brown writes on architecture and urban planning, and mainly designs university campus plans.

Denise Scott Brown’s drive for artistic change comes from social changes. Scott Brown tries to solve problems adequately, and tries to find these problems or challenges through pop culture and media.


Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1977. Print.

Brown, Denise Scott. “Learning From Pop.” The Journal of Popular CultureVII.2 (1973): 387-401. Print.

“Denise Scott Brown & Robert Ventri.” Interview by Adam Marcus. Museo Magazine 2010: n. pag. Web. 10 May 2014. <;.

VSBA. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2014. <;.

Salomon, Stephanie, and Steve Kroeter. “Still Learning from Denise Scott Brown.” Designers & Books. N.p., 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 12 May 2014. <;.


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