Denise Scott Brown

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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 90)
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand
Architectural Association School of Architecture
University of Pennsylvania
Robert Scott Brown
(m. 1955; died 1959)

(m. 1967; died 2018)
Parent(s)Simon Lakofski
Phyllis Hepker
PracticeVenturi, 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.[1] Scott Brown and her husband and partner, Robert Venturi, 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.[citation needed] Pursuing this goal, she spent her summers working with architects, and from 1948 to 1952, after attending Kingsmead College,[2] 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.[3]

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 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.[4]

Academic career[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6] In 2003 she was a visiting lecturer with Venturi at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

Architecture and planning[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[7]

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.[7]

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 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.[8] 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 capitol building in Toulouse and the Nikko Hotel and Spa Resort in Japan.[9]

Pritzker Prize controversy[edit]

Scott Brown's husband and business partner Robert Venturi
External video
Benjamin Franklin House Outline.jpg
video icon 2016 AIA Gold Medal: Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA and Robert Venturi, FAIA on YouTube, 3:50

When Robert Venturi was named as winner of the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize,[10] Scott Brown did not attend the award ceremony in protest.[11] The prize organization, the Hyatt Foundation, stated that, in 1991, it honored only individual architects, a practice that changed in 2001 with the selection of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.[11] However, the award was given to two recipients in 1988.[12]

In 2013, Women In Design, a student organization spearheaded by Caroline Amory James and Arielle Assouline-Lichten[13] at the Harvard Graduate School of Design started a petition for Scott Brown to receive joint recognition with her partner Robert Venturi.[14] When awarded the Jane Drew Prize in 2017 Scott Brown referred to the Pritzker controversy and subsequent petition saying "I was very touched by the Pritzker petition – and that is my prize in the end. 20,000 people wrote from all over the world and every one of them called me Denise."[15]

Room at the top[edit]

In 1989, Scott Brown published her famous essay, "Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture".[16] 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[edit]

Awards and recognition[edit]

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.[31]

Published works[edit]

  • 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.
  • Miranda, Carolina A. (2013-04-15). "Architect Interview With Denise Scott Brown". Architect. ISSN 0746-0554. OCLC 779661406. Retrieved 2018-03-09.


  • Fixsen, Anna. “The World, as Seen by Denise Scott Brown: A Photography Exhibition on View at the Venice Architecture Biennale Chronicles the Architect’s Fascination with Capturing the Beauty and Banality of Cities.” Architectural Record, no. 9 (September 1, 2016): 53–54.
  • Zeiger, Mimi. 2017. “Denise Scott Brown.” Architectural Review 241 (1439): 67–69.


  1. ^ "View all information for Denise Scott Brown". Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  2. ^ Shoemaker, Jay (November 19, 2005). "Dreams & Themes with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, November 19, 2005". Carpenters' Hall. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  3. ^ Brownlee, David B.; De Long, David G.; Whitaker, Kathryn (2001). Out of the Ordinary. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  4. ^ Harvard News Office. "Harvard Gazette: Architect to receive Radcliffe Medal". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  5. ^ "Lessons from Las Vegas - 99% Invisible". 99% Invisible. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  6. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. pp. 585. ISBN 9780415252256.
  7. ^ a b c von Moos, Stanislaus (1999). Venturi Scott Brown & Associates Buildings and Projects, 1986-1998. New York: The Monacelli Press.
  8. ^ a b Brownlee, David B.; De Long, David G.; Hiesinger, Kathryn B. (2001). Out of the Ordinary. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Department of Publishing.
  9. ^ "VSBA Homepage". Archived from the original on 2006-10-15. Retrieved 2006-08-23.
  10. ^ Eleanor Blau (April 8, 1991) Robert Venturi Is to Receive Pritzker Architecture Prize The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b Robin Pogrebin (April 17, 2013) Partner Without the Prize The New York Times.
  12. ^ "The Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates". The Pritzker Architecture Prize. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  13. ^ "Harvard Graduate School of Design - Homepage". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  14. ^ "Partner Without the Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  15. ^ "Denise Scott Brown recognised with 2017 Jane Drew Prize". 6 February 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  16. ^ "Room at the top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-08. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  17. ^ "Denise Scott Brown recognised with 2017 Jane Drew Prize". Architects Journal. 2017-02-06. Retrieved 2017-02-07.
  18. ^ Scott Brown, Denise. "Biography Venturi and Scott Brown" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-07-09.
  19. ^ "Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Win the 2016 AIA Gold Medal". Architect Magazine. 2015-12-02. Retrieved 2017-02-07.
  20. ^ "Award Recipients | Center / Architecture + Design". Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  21. ^ "History of Honorees & Jurors | Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum". 2014-05-17. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  22. ^ "The Vilcek Foundation -". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  23. ^ "Denise Scott Brown". Vilcek Foundation. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  24. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  25. ^ "Architect to receive Radcliffe Medal". Harvard Gazette. 2005-06-09. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  26. ^ "Awards for exemplary achievements in the built environment". National Building Museum. Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  27. ^ "AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Architectural Education - AIA". Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  28. ^ "National Medal of Arts". Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  29. ^ "ACSA Distinguished Professor Awards".
  30. ^ "Architecture Firm Award - AIA". Retrieved 2021-02-03.
  31. ^ Alex Bozikovic, "City Dreamers: Portraits of four women who shaped the world we live in". The Globe and Mail, May 16, 2019.

External links[edit]

Media related to Denise Scott Brown at Wikimedia Commons