From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown’s “Wayward” Eye

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From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown's
From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown's "Wayward" Eye / © Denise Scott Brown

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From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown's "Wayward" Eye
From Venice to Venice Beach: Denise Scott Brown’s “Wayward” Eye / © Denise Scott Brown

The influential architect-planner reflects on her colorful and analytic use of photography over the decades

The grande dame of architecture and planning has always relied on her camera as a critical tool. Her photography is currently showcased in the exhibition Wayward Eye: The Photography of Denise Scott Brown, on view at the Venice Architecture Biennale through November 27, and will be featured in a forthcoming publication by Metropolis Books. Here, Scott Brown offers a brief history of her photography, as well as a selection of her works.

In September 1956, Robert Scott Brown and I arrived in Venice for the CIAM Summer School. We were passionate Modernists who agreed with English New Brutalist ideas for updating the movement. We fell in love with Venice, photographing architectural set pieces as records to return to while practicing back in Africa. But in the process our focus shifted from recording to analyzing, and more than architecture crept into our photographs.

We learned to catch intriguing sights before they were gone: “Don’t think. Just shoot!” Stop to question your choice of subject and it’ll disappear before you reach it and just as you realize why you want it.

Venice, in gainsaying Modern principles, offered an extension of Brutalist thought. Here time is revealed in brick sizes and combinations, which in one house mark many eras. Palazzos derailed from their first programs are now museums, galleries, and apartment houses—activities their designers never dreamt of. What gave historic buildings the ability to adapt? How can we design for unpredictable futures? Where does change over time leave the concept of functionalism? […]

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