50 years after its construction made architectural history, the most significant house in Chestnut Hill has hit the market for sale.
Listed with New York-based auction house Sotheby’s Real Estate, 8300 Millman Street can be yours for $1.75 million. That price won’t fetch you a home that’s mansion sized, but it will buy a home considered to be the first postmodern building ever built and a jewel of American architecture.
Known as Vanna Venturi house, the 3-bedroom just west of Pastorius Park, was designed by famed architect Robert Venturi for his mother, Vanna. The eclectic house, replete with a staircase leading nowhere and a structurally useless arch, was included in PBS’s list of “10 Buildings that Changed America,” and even honored on a US postage stamp in 2005.
In 1959, the junior Venturi began designs for a single-story house that would eschew the architectural trends and norms of his moment. In an era of modernism and minimalism, where simplicity and practicality were valued highly, Venturi bucked the trend by creating a complex, asymmetrical home. In his words from his aptly-titled book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, “I am for messy vitality over obvious unity.”
Robert Venturi is widely considered to be one of the most influential architects and architectural theorist of the 20th-century. A native of Philadelphia (he still lives in Mt. Airy with his wife and architectural partner Denise Scott-Brown) he worked with celebrated architects such as Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn before becoming a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Though his scholarly work is perhaps more well-known than his architecture, his architecture is considered major because of its shift from the preceding norms.
The 1,800-square-foot layout of the home is complex and irregular inside and out. Composed of diagonals, rectangles and curves, the rooms and shapes are anything but standard. In the center of the large, open living space lies the well-known oversized fireplace. The single upstairs room, a master bedroom, features a “staircase to nowhere.” It’s these “contradictions” that sharply move away from the other architects’ work of his period, in addition to the intentionally complex and non-utilitarian forms.
Because the elder Venturi could not easily navigate a multi-story home, Venturi built the house to be livable on only one floor. Because Vanna Venturi did not drive, Venturi did not design a garage. Architectural historians note these personal touches as key to the building’s lasting importance.
It has been 42 years since the Vanna Venturi house has been on the market. In 1973, the year Vanna died, the house and 0.85 acre property sold to a homeowner who has kept the house since.
It’s major news in the architecture world; Philly Mag headlined their article on the house “Jaw Dropper of the Year: The Vanna Venturi House Is On The Market.” Even on a block that features a celebrated Louis Kahn house as well, the Vanna Venturi house is a household name for architecture enthusiasts. It’s simply not every day that a gem of this caliber is on sale to the general public.