She Said, He Said: Denise Scott Brown and Kenneth Frampton on Popular Taste

Deborah Fausch


During the post-war period, the nature of ‘the people’ and popular culture was a matter of intense interest to the disciplines of architecture and urban design. These issues stand behind a debate between Denise Scott Brown and Kenneth Frampton in the December 1971 issue of Casabella. The disagreement between Frampton and Scott Brown concerns three issues: the nature of ‘the people’, the character of popular culture, and the role of architects in relation to popular culture. Underlying this last issue is the question of popular taste: whether a debased devolution from that of the educated and cultured classes, or an embodiment of its own intrinsic principles.  

Scott Brown defines the people in terms of a set of ‘subcultures’, diverse groups of persons with relatively uniform sets of behaviours, values, attitudes, and preferences, coexisting together in society. She terms the emerging post-war urban environments ‘the popular landscape’ and claims that the symbolic additions made to homes constitute a source of information about popular values, attitudes, and preferences. Frampton refers to the people in terms such as ‘the constrained masses’, popular culture as ‘engineered fantasies of mass taste’, and the urban landscape as ‘the alienated environment’ of ‘deculturated forms’, a ‘repressed consensus’ of ‘mid-cult kitsch’. The two also disagree about the role of the architect; Frampton is concerned about the loss of a connection of form to content and the reinforcement of alienation and conformity involved in the contemporary approaches to urban design; Scott Brown recommends helping ‘the people’ to ‘live in houses and cities the way they want to live’.

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