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The Architect’s Mentor Series – 06 Denise Scott Brown

Architect's Mentor Series - Denise Scott Brown - CambridgeSeven


by Maddie Burns, AIA

An Ode to Denise Scott Brown:

The way I first learned about Denise Scott Brown was by learning what she was not; a Pritzker Prize winner. Someone remarked about how unfair it was that her husband and firm partner, Robert Venturi, received the Pritzker Prize and Denise was not recognized. It seems somewhat unfair to her massive and incredible body of work that my, and many other’s, introduction to her genius would be through what she did not receive instead of what she has given.

It is in this way that I began to be interested in who this remarkable woman was. The first google search of her I did returned the famed picture of her standing in the Las Vegas desert, twinkling signs and hotels rising unnaturally in the distance on the strip, and Denise standing, hands on hips like a self-assured general surveying the recently conquered, staring directly into the camera. It is in this power pose that I imagine Denise, fighting for her voice in a male-dominated field, and subsequently making it possible for my generation of women in the field to be more seen and heard than hers.

Despite her innumerable contributions to the built environment, both in her teaching, writing (Learning from Las Vegas, was and still is one of the most influential texts on my education), and designing, the legacy I look to most from Denise is the tenacity and grit through which she did it. She refused to be sidelined or told she couldn’t do something because of her gender. She did not try to diminish herself or be complacent with scraps from the tables of critics who largely attributed her work to her husband. Instead, she stood her ground, and in the process lifted those around her. She did not want to be seen as a “female architect” but simply an architect; not defined or limited by her gender, but judged on the merit of her work.

Every time I read her essay, “Room at the Top; Sexism and the Star System in Architecture”, I find more and more things to agree with. Her ideas on the toxicity of “starchitect” architecture, her long lens of experience realizing that waiting for change in a system blind to its failures accomplishes nothing, continue to resonate with me.

She is to me, not just one of the greatest female architects of all time, but simply, the greatest architect of all time.