'The clues of what we created during our career and wrote about architecture and urbanism can be found in Bob's first building 'Mother's House'. From contradiction and complexity to communicative architecture, and from interior public spaces to the 'decorated shed'. In this sense I see this house as the embryo of our ideas,' stated Scott Brown at NAI. In their latest book however they put the emphasis on architecture as sign rather than space, a powerful statement originating from their book Learning from Las Vegas published in 1972. At that time an eye opener for many people but mainly relevant for the American context. Despite defending an architecture of signs, icons, and billboards, at the same time they oppose the idea that symbols become more important than the function of the building. For example she commented on Koolhaas' CCTV building in Beijing as creating a signage at the cost of playing with peoples lives. 'There are people who are going to live and work behind these windows. Instead of Rem's approach I would rather let the building do its job and add the sign to the building, since I also strongly believe that symbolism is needed. When I told this to him during our dinner two nights ago, he smiled. He was nice but just didn't agree.'
This criticism clarifies the Venturis' view in a very obvious way. In contrast to many others who also criticized modernism they remained hard-core functionalists. However they show a social concern which they express this through the language of signs. This should be understood as an attempt to reach the users. Their iconography is their communication domain. Touching this issue Scott Brown pointed out the danger of the way architects read sociology. 'When the sociologists told the architects that they may not always have the right tools to answer the social questions, architects turned around and said 'ok then, from now on we do what we like', which is a frightening misunderstanding.'
After the interview with the American/South African couple, one by one the invited Dutch architects appeared on stage, with a short impression of their work. Sjoerd Soeters started complaining about the difficulties of being a postmodernist in a 'suppressive Stalinist modernist environment' in the Netherlands, controlled by 'the design police'. However this design police so far did not stop him from doing his job, as he was showing through a range of examples of his projects. Unfortunately most of the visitors will probably not remember all of those works but rather the dominating showman Soeters with his provocative attitude and the practical joke with the gun as a pointer - understood by no one including the Venturis.
Liesbeth van der Pol showed a housing project in the polder and stressed that she sees her job as an architect to create beautiful things. 'I don't give a shit about signs and communication with people. My buildings don't talk.' This was leading to a protest from the audience, stating that it's not possible for a building not to communicate. Scott Brown and Venturi remained calm and polite, but deferred the discussion to the facade cover of the building.
Finally Haiko Meijer introduced the vision of Onix with two carefully selected images. The first one being 'the undecorated shed' and another project called 'waiting for significance'. This time discussion was not about style or beauty but about experience(s) of a physical surrounding. Calling their way of designing 'humble but communicative architecture' Robert Venturi congratulated Meijer for creating 21st century architecture. Which shows the still lively 'modernist' minds of the Venturis in the sense that they are open to new ideas. Just as they have been doing all through their career by always taking a critical stand towards dominating and therefore boring mainstreams and continuously looking for new directions.