In 2013, two students from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design started a petition to have Denise Scott Brown, in her 80s at the time, retroactively recognized by the Pritzker Prize which had been awarded in 1991 to Robert Venturi, her husband and partner in work.
The petition went viral, collecting more than 20,000 signatures, including those of Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Robert Venturi himself. Peter Palumbo, President of the Pritzker Prize, rejected the retroactive award, claiming that the jury could not revisit the decision made at the time.
But Denise Scott Brown has been exposing the predominant sexism in a male dominated architectural community for quite a long time. In “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture” published in 1989, Denise Scott Brown is openly denouncing the consignment of women in architecture to a second-class status.
Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi formed a duo since the 60's. They were architects, planners, authors, theorists and artists and ran together their company Venturi Scott Brown and Associates.
In 1968, Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour, traveled to Las Vegas and produced one of the most referenced texts in 20th-century architectural theory and a manifesto of postmodernism: “Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form”. When published in 1972, the work had been credited as Venturi's contribution.
In 1977, Denise Scott Brown has written the introduction of the 2nd edition and expressed herself on the “social structure of the profession, its domination by upper-middle-class males, and the emphasis its members place upon” the solitary creative genius.
She tells of being excluded from dinners reserved for “architects and not their wives” and shares a moment of contempt at a cocktail party, when architecture historian Colin Rowe spilled his drink on her back and said “Denise, cara mia. Fuck you, bitch!” after she explained that Venturi's work was also hers.
“I’m not a photographer. I shoot for architecture - if there’s art here it’s a byproduct.” – Denise Scott Brown.
Denise Scott Brown’s photographic work has empowered her to capture with empathy and precision a broader conception of architecture, one which goes beyond a form obeying the dictates of function.
She observed everyday life, the urban environment, the commercial iconography, and the symbols of pop culture and multiculturalism. She got actively involved in the social planning movement. Hers and Robert Venturi’s work encouraged architects to take greater interest in social issues.
At 89, the South-African architect is now an icon and received major awards since the Pritzker controversy: The Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in 2016 with Venturi, the Jane Drew Prize from the Architectural Review in 2017; the Soane Medal from Sir John Soane’s Museum in London in 2018; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lisbon Architecture Triennial.