“‘Downtown Denise Scott Brown’ is an immersive, celebratory experience, rather than a critical, academic appraisal of her work.”
In November, the Architekturzentrum Wien (Az W) will open a comprehensive show dedicated to 86-year old American architect Denise Scott Brown. Exhibition designer Jeremy Tenenbaum gives us a preview of the unique concept.
You curated the Denise Scott Brown exhibition specially for the Az W. How did this transatlantic collaboration come about?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: When Angelika Fitz became director of the Architekturzentrum Wien in 2017, she and her staff resolved to program more shows focusing on the work of female architects. Most importantly, they decided to offer solo shows instead of including their work in ‘women-only’ group shows. Fortunately, the Az W invited Denise Scott Brown to inaugurate this series in recognition of her profound impact on architecture both as a woman who has lived through and shaped decades of architectural history and as a model for younger architects.
Could you explain the overall concept of the exhibition?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: We’re calling the show “Downtown Denise Scott Brown.” It’s an immersive, celebratory experience, rather than a critical, academic appraisal of her work. Overall, the exhibition creates a sense of being with Denise, of walking her streets, seeing with her eyes.
Will the show focus on her as a person, or on her work, or both?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: “Downtown” focuses on Denise’s life, ideas, designs, photography, collaborations, joys, and loves. We wish to represent “the universe of Denise.” Imagine Denise Scott Brown standing in the center of a city plaza – and exploding. Little bits of her fly everywhere! Her history, her ideas, her words … the entire plaza becomes encoded with Denise.
Will the show be structured chronologically or thematically?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: Because the exhibition takes the form of a plaza, its form and content are structured urbanistically. I’ve designed it as an ersatz city piazza, an urban environment complete with artificial storefronts, an operating café and market stall, with seating, street objects, and at the center there is a magnificent fountain with digitally animated imagery instead of water. The textual and photographic content of the show is encoded in all surfaces. Many texts are Denise’s own words, culled from her publications and interviews as well as my recent conversations with her. Visitors flow through the room as if through a public space. Primary attractions are counterbalanced by more recessive spaces offering the freedom to read the content without being rushed.
What would you say is the attraction of the exhibition for potential visitors in Vienna unfamiliar with Denise Scott Brown?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: Within this exhibition, visitors of any interest or experience should feel welcome, respected, and intrigued. The architectural expert will find a tremendous wealth of first-hand information in Denise’s own words, photographs, decorative arts, and reproductions of teaching materials from the 1960s – there’s material to explore for hours! The casual viewer who perhaps has never heard of Denise Scott Brown will find a beautiful environment through which to stroll, while immersed in Denise’s work and ideas.
Was Denise Scott Brown involved in the concept of the exhibition?
Jeremy Tenenbaum: Denise’s guidance and contributions are fundamental to the exhibition. At the outset of the design, she and I discussed my overall concept and she asked important questions: How would exhibits be arranged? How would people move through the space? Denise has continually reviewed the design as it has taken shape and has spoken with the Az W’s director Angelika Fitz and curator Katharina Ritter. She will also be filmed for inclusion in the show. In our conversations, she looks back at a lifetime of architectural achievement.