Steven Izenour

Steven Izenour
Born July 16, 1940
New Haven, CT
Died August 21, 2001
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania, Yale University
Occupation Architect
Practice Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates
Buildings George D. Widener Memorial Treehouse, Philadelphia Zoo, Houston Children's Museum, George Izenour House

Steven Izenour (1940 in New Haven – August 21, 2001 in Vermont) was an American architect, urbanist and theorist. He is best known as co-author, with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown of Learning from Las Vegas, one of the most influential architectural theory books of the twentieth century. He was also principal in the Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His father was theatre stage and lighting designer George Izenour. He was married, in 1964, to Elisabeth Margit Gemmill.

Education and teaching

Izenour studied art history at Swarthmore College and architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, before going on to earn a Master of Environmental Design at Yale University in 1969. After completing his degree at Yale, and running the "Learning from Las Vegas" design studio for Bob Venturi, he found employment in Charles Moore's office in New Haven for a year or two. At some point in the late 1960s/early 1970s, he (and his wife, Elisabeth Margit Gemmill, and their two children, Ann-Kristin Izenour and Tessa) migrated back to Philadelphia so he could reunite with Bob Venturi, Rauch, and Scott-Brown. "He was a unique spirit from the get-go," Ms. Scott-Brown said. "The rebellious maverick side of our work appealed to him." She credits him with the nickname, "Big Tuna around the office." [1]

As well as teaching at Yale University, Izenour also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Learning from Las Vegas

While still a grad student at Yale he was the TA who assisted Robert Venturi in 1968 for a studio course and research project titled "Learning from Las Vegas, or Form Analysis as Design Research". The findings from the research eventually became the book "Learning from Las Vegas" first published in 1972 and republished in a revised edition in 1977 titled Learning from Las Vegas. The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form.[2]

Izenour accompanied his senior tutor colleagues, Venturi and Scott Brown, to Las Vegas in 1968 together with nine students of architecture and two planning and two graphics students to study the urban form of the city that was regarded as a "non-city", the outgrowth of a "strip", along which were placed parking lots and singular frontages for gambling casinos, hotels, churches and bars. Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour had already previously visited Las Vegas - which had led to the joint article "A significance for A&P parking lots, or learning from Las Vegas" (1968). The research group studied various aspects of the city, including its symbolism, the lighting, "pattern books", "styles" and "illusion/allusion". Their conclusion was that in a city like Las Vegas image has far greater importance than architectural form. The difference was said to be epitomized in the difference between architecture as either a "decorated shed" or "duck". The greatest part of modernist architecture attempted to be a "duck" in being expressive, especially in terms of volume; but the "decorated shed" held no such illusions and relied on imagery and signs. Virtually all architecture prior to the Modern Movement used such decoration to convey meaning, often profound but sometimes simply perfunctory, such as the signage on medieval shop fronts. Only Modernist architecture eschewed such ornament, relying only on its corporeal or structural elements to convey meaning. As such, it became mute and often vacuous, especially when built for corporate or government clients.[2]

Learning from Las Vegas caused a stir in the architectural world upon its publication, as it was hailed by progressive critics for its bold indictment of Modernism, and by the status quo as blasphemous. A split among young American architects occurred during the 1970s, with Izenour, Venturi, Robert A.M. Stern, Charles Moore and Allan Greenberg defending the book as "The Greys," and Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, John Heyduk, and Michael Graves writing against its premises as "The Whites." It became associated with post-modernism when magazines such as Progressive Architecture published articles citing its influence on the younger generation. When Tom Wolfe wrote his often-pilloried book, From Bauhaus to Our House Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour were among the heroes the author praised for their stand against heroic Modernism.

White Towers

In 1979, continuing his studies into the relationship of architecture and pop culture, Izenour along with fellow architect Paul Hirshorn wrote a monograph of the White Tower Hamburgers fast food chain with selected photographs taken in a variety of styles—from the stark and deadpan to family album-like snapshots. In an affectionately written introductory essay, Hirshorn and Izenour described the identifiable and idiosyncratic commercial architectural style of the 1930s and 1940s and documented the development of the White Tower's architecture and stylistic variations. Their conversations with former White Tower's employees, including Charles Johnson, White Tower's architect for over forty years, set their analysis of the buildings within a broader story of corporate culture, mass marketing, and the rise of franchising in the twentieth century.[3]

Learning from the Wildwoods

Similar to the Las Vegas studies, in the 1990s Izenour started university courses for the study and preservation of 1950s Doo Wop architecture in Wildwood, N.J. In association with the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University and Kent State University, he came up with the Wildwoods Redevelopment Plan[4] which laid the foundation for the regeneration of the beach resort.[5]


  1. Steven Izenour, 61, Architect of American Pop, Dies New York Times. August 8, 2001.
  2. 1 2 Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1972, revised 1977. ISBN 0-262-72006-X
  3. Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour, White Towers, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1979, revised 2007. ISBN 9780262083683
  4. Steven Izenour, Learning from the Wildwoods...
  5. Melissa Milgrom, Learning from Steve Izenour, The Metropolis Observed, Metropolis Magazine, January 2002
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