Downtown Denise Scott Brown at the Architekturzentrum Wien is the first major exhibition dedicated to Denise Scott Brown — iconic architect, urban planner, teacher, and writer. With partner and husband Robert Venturi, Denise has guided designers and thinkers since the 1960s yet remains obscured and misunderstood.
Downtown manifests her ideas in a uniquely Denisian way. The exhibition is designed as a real place, albeit temporary. Driven by Denise’s concepts and spirit, it’s designed urbanistically: the vaulted room is transformed into an outdoor piazza, with a monumental fountain surrounded by ersatz shops, café, and market.
Urbanism is fundamental to the exhibition’s design: unlike many exhibitions, but exactly like cities, there is no prescribed experiential order. Visitors enter the space and are drawn to the fountain, some storefront, the café? The route visitors choose, as well as their interactions with the space and each other, help to define the show.
Brick piers between windows become trompe l’oeil storefronts with displays dedicated to Denise’s life and work — her design, planning, childhood, writing. Some storefronts are two-dimensional while some are “real” constructions filled with books or decorative arts. Throughout, texts are bilingual and positioned accessibly.
One storefront is titled “I Can Like Something Worse Than You Can Like,” a game Denise and Bob invented to expand their aesthetics. Downtown’s visitors play in their footsteps by photographing the exhibition’s “ugly” parts — its construction, wires, and seams — and posting to Instagram. Then these photos appear on the storefront’s old TVs!
The fountain is Downtown’s heart. It honors Denise with a spray of projected light showing scenes from her life. And it holds a secret: a hidden passage adorned with architectural graffiti and, at the heart of the exhibition’s heart, a video of Denise greeting visitors and telling them about the time as a student when she designed her own secret passage.
Lastly let’s try Downtown’s photobooth. Sit within and your photo is taken — then projected atop the fountain! Then take a selfie with your selfie. “I Am A Monument” proclaims the fountain — meaning Denise but also meaning *you*. Downtown is a celebration of Denise but realized by its visitors, its citizens.
Downtown Denise Scott Brown communicates meanings just as real urban environments communicate theirs: through signs and iconography, architecture real and represented, stores of goods and information, and a panoply of vernacular street things. Downtown’s banners, trashcans, markers, and chalkboards are all encoded with content. There’s even a Downtown newspaper dedicated to her studio work. The ersatz blends with actual: the fake market sells real gifts; the fake café serves real Denisaccinos. Throughout, Denise’s ideas pervade in word and action. Is there a better honor for an architect?
Downtown Denise Scott Brown’s accompanying publication, “Your Guide to Downtown Denise Scott Brown,” looks and behaves like a real travel guide. It also serves as exhibition catalogue and stand-alone monograph containing an extensive new interview with Denise. The guide has been described as doing “a great job of putting people… inside the exhibition — much better than anything I’ve ever encountered” (Archidose).
Downtown Denise Scott Brown succeeds with 7,765 visitors and features in the press (print, digital, TV, radio) across Austria, Europe, and America. It has been called “…a vivid panorama that invites visitors to take part in an interaction…ironic and playful in a postmodern way, yet no less critical or inspiring. It represents a welcome beginning for a subsequent intensive reception of an architect and her work, both of which will finally be given the honour that is due.” (Detail)
Jeremy Tenenbaum (exhibition designer; catalogue author and designer),Katharina Ritter (AZW, curator), Angelika Fitz (AZW, director)
Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum
3,230 square feet
Architekturzentrum Wien (In-house fabrication workshop, with some subcontracted fabrication)