Learning from Las Vegas – Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour

Learning from Las Vegas is the title of a brave book that has been written by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour and published in 1972. As you can imagine this book caused since the beginning many controversies, starting from the title: why on earth we shoul learn from the city of sin and immorality?

The architects from Philadelphia asked themselves some questions, as: what is Las Vegas? How it came out? Which are the keys of this unexpected success? This analysis interests the city only as a phenomenon of architectural communication and this is not the place to discuss the excess and the promiscuity of his customers.

Learning from Las Vegas


Learning from Las Vegas: Why?

This city was born from nowhere, it is apparently artificial, but it actually lives as every other city. Las Vegas is the pioneer of the excess and of the flashing billboards, as well as of the sometime dreary evocation of exotic worlds.

Tom Wolfe, author of “Maledicts architects”, wrote that precisely billboards establish the essence of Las Vegas. In this book, following the contrail of this idea, Venturi talks about the planning theory of “decorative shed”, where the sign becomes more important than the building itself and represents its image, that in this city is more than important.

Against the myopia of academic environments, the authors of this book were able to understand a society different from the known and all along studied one. Louis Kahn’s students took their instruments, got in a car and forgot the dark offices where normally scholars and critics close themselves to study society. They went on the road and started to observe, again – “for an architect to learn from the landscape around him is a way of being revolutionary.. creativity depends on the observation of what surrounds us”.

In “Learning from Las Vegas” they do not judge, limiting themselves to the observation and the creation of planning and development rules. The remarkable value of these architects was the one of managing a topic that probably no one would have never investigated, at least in the architectural environment- still Las Vegas represents a fundamental key of the last century.

Learning from Las Vegas

Talking about the commercial “strip” of the American city, cornerstone of the whole subject, it is said that “it challenges the architect to take a stand, without any prejudice. Architects are not used to observe the environment in an a-evaluative way, modern architecture is (..) unsatisfied of the actual conditions. Modern architecture has been everything but indulgent: architects preferred to change the existing space, instead of appraising what was already existing.”

Not only they do not judge, but, even more important, they do not have prejudices. Venturi is the one that wrote “less is the bore” with a polemic tone towards the more famous aphorism by Mies Van Der Rohe “less is more”. From this wordplay and from the extract we read, we can understand how much the theory of the Philadelphia architect moves away from the mandates of Modern architecture.

Learning from Las Vegas teaches how to observe, how to look from a different perspective- this book reshapes the figure of the architect/ creator going toward a figure of someone more able to give value to what is already existing. A book about the visual communication, impartial, objective and accurate. A book worth reading.

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