Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Formby Published 01 Jan 1977
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Editorial Reviews - Learning from Las Vegas From the Publisher Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments. This revision includes the full texts of Part I of the original, on the Las Vegas strip, and Part II, "Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed," a generalization from the findings of the first part on symbolism in architecture and the iconography of urban sprawl. (The final part of the first edition, on the architectural work of the firm Venturi and Rauch, is not included in the revision.) The new paperback edition has a smaller format, fewer pictures, and a considerably lower price than the original. There are an added preface by Scott Brown and a bibliography of writings by the members of Venturi and Rauch and about the firm's work. Synopsis Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments. This revision includes the full texts of Part I of the original, on the Las Vegas strip, and Part II, "Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed," a generalization from the findings of the first part on symbolism in architecture and the iconography of urban sprawl. (The final part of the first edition, on the architectural work of the firm Venturi and Rauch, is not included in the revision.) The new paperback edition has a smaller format, fewer pictures, and a considerably lower price than the original. There are an added preface by Scott Brown and a bibliography of writings by the members of Venturi and Rauch and about the firm's work. About Author: Biography Steven Izenour (1940-2001)
Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form Reviews
Learning from Las Vegas worked for me in much the same way that Towards a New Architecture didn’t. The authors effectively pick apart numerous shortcomings in Modernism – the pretense of architecture based on functionality being objectively and immutably correct, the pointless rejection of the usefulness of ornamentation, the arrogance of heroic architecture that was supposed to actualize the architect’s progressive ideals but, of course, didn’t. My favorite critique may have been this one (which, frankly, I ought to remember):
“In dismissing Levittown, Modern architects, who have characteristically promoted the role of the social sciences in architecture, reject whole sets of dominant social patterns because they do not like the architectural consequences of those patterns.… As Experts with Ideals, who pay lip service to the social sciences, they build for Man rather than for people—this means, to suit themselves, that is, to suit their own particular upper-middle-class values, which they assign to everyone.”
I think I may have liked this book because it jibed so well with my own sensibilities – it’s ironic (even lighthearted), nostalgic, and egalitarian. It wants to be realistic in a world where architects can be fantasists. It recognizes the necessity in building for people as they are, not imagining people as we want them to be. And it asks you to question whether you’re really smarter than everybody else.
There were parts that didn’t sit well with me. It seems like a cop-out to ignore the social and environmental consequences of the architecture they’re promoting, abrogating their own ethical responsibility in the name of populism. Sure, car culture is dominant, but it’s worthwhile to evaluate whether that dominance should be reinforced or opposed in future development. And it seems to overlook the idea of beauty as a noble end worth pursuing; the very element of delight that they claim the Modernists forgot about. Surely there’s a middle ground between the architect as Übermensch and the architect as blank vessel, and between glass-and-steel box and brick box. And, unsurprisingly, sometimes the authors come across as a bit too intellectual for their own good.
But with those caveats, I think there’s a lot of value here, bringing back a bit of what was lost when the Modernists threw out the bathwater, the baby, and the bathtub. I think this one will stick with my for a while.
A book that beautifully presents Las Vegas' tangible architectural elements and gives us insightful views of the overall display of rigid shapes ranging from an outward to an inward perspective.
I loved the inclusion of the Eliot's "East Coker" into Las Vegas'architectural design.(a poem about the cycle of life from birth to return-‘In my beginning is my end.’ - a poem touched by insights of the Ecclesiastes)
“perhaps a fitting requiem for the irrelevant works of Art that are today’s descendants of a once meaningful Modern architecture are Eliot’s line in “East Coker”
'That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter'
§ LAS VEGAS LIGHTING
"The gambling room is always very dark; the patio, always very bright.
But both are enclosed: The former has no windows, and the latter is
open only to the sky. The combination of darkness and enclosure of
the gambling room and its subspaces makes for privacy, protection,
concentration, and control.
The intricate maze under the low ceiling
never connects with outside light or outside space.
This disorients the
occupant in space and time.
One loses track of where one is and when
it is. Time is limitless, because the light of noon and midnight are exactly the same.
Space is limitless, because the artificial light obscures
rather than defines its boundaries (Fig. 51).
Light is not used to define
Walls and ceilings do not serve as reflective surfaces for light but
~re made absorbent and dark.
Space is enclosed but limitless, because
its edges are dark. Light sources, chandeliers, and the glowing, jukebox~-
like gambling machines themselves are independent of walls and ceilings.
The lighting is antiarchitectural.
Illuminated baldacchini, more than in all Rome, hover over tables in the limitless shadowy restaurant at the Sahara Hotel"
Venturi has undoubtedly become the black sheep of late twentieth-century architecture. This book is part of the reason why. It's a rather bold, almost crass statement about the askew focus of Modern architecture. He compares Rome to Las Vegas, not to mention the fact that he introduced postmodern irony into architectural perspectives, which the classicists and the moderns probably weren't too thrilled about. His symbolical relativism more or less diminishes every formal masterpiece ever constructed, and he praises Las Vegas for being the ideal architectural environment for efficiently accommodating urban automobile culture. Social concern, in the context of city planning is completely absent from this text. In a way, Venturi's text is written by that of a complete postmodern provocateur, single-handedly justifying ugliness in architecture "after modernism".
Signs are important in Venturi and Brown's (his wife Denise Scott Brown) study of Las Vegas architecture. Billboards, or those big flashy neon signs that sin city is so well known for function as symbolic representations of what a particular building or structure is trying to say. Ugliness is efficient here because it represents the point of the value of the building; what it does, what is sold within, what people go to this building for. Venturi calls for the ordinary over the beautiful in approaches to a new architecture because he feels that the time period calls for it. He expresses it somewhat well in the following passage.
"Why do we uphold the symbolism of the ordinary via the decorated shed over the symbolism of the heroic via the sculptural duck? Because this is not the time and ours is not the environment for heroic communication through pure architecture. Each medium has its day, and the rhetorical environmental statements of our time-civic, commercial,or residential-will come from media more purely symbolic, perhaps less static and more adaptable to the scale of our environment. The iconography and mixed media of roadside commercial architecture will point the way, if we will look."
And indeed we have. I suppose that eyesores are eyesores for a reason. Venturi's text is certainly influential, even if it is dated. Frederic Jameson, a thinker bound to confuse readers about what Venturi was actually trying to say more than anyone else, was enormously influenced by him. We can also see in this sort of reasoning that attempt to bridge the gap between high and low art that has become so typical of the postmodern sensibility. The specter of Adorno certainly lingers. But maybe Venturi was onto something a little more useful than his postmodern contemporaries, something a little more important than a bunch of neo-marxist theorizing and empty talk about cultural hegemony. It seems to me that he was merely attempting to show people how to reevaluate ugliness with a sympathetic eye. This book is full of suggestions, and to me the most important when in an architectural sense was to see the metaphorical or symbolical value of these structures and their usefulness. The book's ideas are unquestionably dated, but its relevance and revolutionary value should not be taken for granted.
Essential book 4 dezigners. Not sure if I like it more than "Complexity and Contradiction" but it's still pretty great.
I was disappointed. Some of this disappointment is practical; in trying to save money on this edition, they went too far, and shrank the illustrations too much, to the point where I genuinely can't see what's going on in many of them (several pages have multiple, tiny b&w photos on them, with crappy contrast).
And some of my disappointment may come from familiarity with many of the authors' basic arguments--they're not new to me, which isn't really this book's fault (then again, I did not have that reaction when I recently read Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and I'm well acquainted with her ideas).
But really, much of this just seemed boring and superficial. Indeed, I showed an illustration to my husband, and when he read the paragraph he said, "Well, that's really stating the obvious, isn't it?" And I couldn't argue.