Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Joan Ockman


This dissertation situates the thought, vision, and design approach of Alison and Peter Smithson in relation to that of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi to reveal a shared attitude toward “the real.” I argue that each couple utilized a mode of visual research that was inspired by the social sciences; each relied on straightforward photographic documentation to represent their findings; and each made similar claims to “defer judgment” and embrace reality on its own terms: “as found.” Their novel attitudes were first prompted by postwar conditions and progressed during a period when the discourse of architecture was shifting away from Modernism and toward Postmodernism. During this period there was a dissolution of Utopia and an energetic embrace of the status quo. Thus, the Smithsons and Scott Brown and Venturi adopted a method of architectural observation that tended to favor realism over utopianism and tended to look outside of the traditional academic bounds for sources of design inspiration. The question at the center of this research – what are the external forces that influence an architect’s mindset and design process? – is vital to the historiography of architecture and urban planning for all periods and styles. The specific contribution of this narrative, however, is the acknowledgement that an architect’s method of engaging and visually analyzing a site at the onset of a project affects production and determines the value of their work. Furthermore, the attitude of reserved judgement and method of sociological observation and photographic documentation outlined in this dissertation, I believe, is noteworthy and offers important lessons for present and future practitioners and students of architecture.


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