Complex or Simple?

Author: Lindsey Trout

In “Complex or Simple?”, Lindsey Trout takes a closer look at Robert Venturi’s criticism of modernist architecture through excerpts of “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.” This essay discusses Venturi’s argument of the validity of modern architecture, stating that most work completed during that time was oversimplified and bland. She cleverly highlights precedents where Venturi may contradict himself due to his emotional analysis, perhaps justifying the title of his work. —Editor: Mandy Edwards

In the excerpt of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Robert Venturi argues that the majority of modernist architects oversimplified their work, which led to the mostly bland architecture of the period. Venturi mentions multiple works by numerous ‘starchitects’ of the modernist movement, but does not dive deeply into the complexities of the works. For example, in the excerpt from Stern, the Barcelona Pavilion is examined for its intricate ornamentation seen in the juxtaposition of rich materials (Nesbitt 1996, 104). However, Venturi calls pavilion architecture an ‘oversimplification,’ and questions why it is being used as precedents in the residential architecture of the time (Nesbitt 1996, 75). While the use of such contrasting typologies as precedents could be a valid point, it is also hard to ignore the fact that the pavilions Venturi referenced served the designed purpose, and usually quite well.


Coming back to his idea of the richness that complexity adds to architecture, Venturi also looks at the typical historic Doric temple. Here he argues, quite successfully, that the simplicity of the temple is achieved through the complex geometry implemented in the distorted geometries and other subtleties that have been backed up by numerous researchers. However, Venturi critiques the Wiley House’s diagrammatic plan merely a paragraph before his analysis of the Doric temple. Planometrically, a Doric temple is essentially a box inside a box. Diagrammatic much?


While Venturi uses compelling rhetoric and just enough logic to balance his emotions, when examined closely, parts of his argument start to deteriorate. With a subject as varied and aged as architecture, it is incredibly difficult to definitively say that the inner complexity of a work is ‘valid and profound.’ Perhaps Venturi elaborates more on these principles later in his book, but this short excerpt does not, and leaves something to be desired.



Nesbitt, Kate, ed. 1996. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, 1965-1995. 1st ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


“ARCH 2354.” 2017. Accessed February 23.

“Peristyle.” 2017. Accessed February 23.


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