Thursday, February 19, 2009

Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

For some who have driven the Las Vegas strip during the day, the effect can be similar to glimpsing a slip-up during a magic trick. For the cultural critic Reyner Banham Las Vegas "truly reveals itself at night" transforming the foundations and armatures of architectural substance into ethereal light. This skin-deep deceit of Vegas has fascinated architects and their students for decades and in late-60s led to one of the most fascinating studies of one city. The book Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown just published from Verlag Scheidegger & Speiss presents the visual material gathered by a group of Yale students led by Brown and Venturi as they turned the city of sin into their own architectural research studio.

Originating from an idea to carry out a complete detailed analysis of Las Vegas, Scott Brown, an architect and urban planner, invited fellow architect Robert Venturi to join the study. Their goal was obtaining an understanding of an automobile-oriented city and documenting the aesthetics of urban sprawl in its "purest and most extreme form." This was published as the landmark book Learning from Las Vegas in 1972 and part of the aim was to introduce the 'Vegas strip' as the product of authentic American popular culture - one which evolved spontaneously and without the oversight of urban planning authority. Their aim was to accept this city as it was and serve as interpreters of "an existing cultural and urban state."

Their deadpan gaze of Vegas, seen through the lenses of today, is steeped in nostalgia and that may be the one danger which short change this wonderful book for many readers. I for one have no love of kitsch and Vegas is the ground zero of kitsch. The attention grabbing aspects of every piece of gravity defying signage or building facade of the old strip did seem to take much greater risks on the part of the makers than the current state of calculated heaviness which one sees now. The concepts of each structure embrace outlandish aesthetics as an expression of ideas of what the future city might accomplish - being able to offer something for every taste with non-stop thrill. The Roman guard statues outside of Caesar's providing a solid footing with a dip into past empirical extravagances while the mothership of the Stardust promises otherworldly adventure.

Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in design and execution is the exact opposite of the gaudy flash of its content. Cool, calculated and elegant, it embraces an aesthetic which is so controlled and clean that it manages to somehow reign in the explosion of typography, color, and scale that the photos describe. The printing is beautiful - the jacket stock perfect. The essay by Martino Stierli clearly and thoughtfully lays out the history and premise while a discussion among Peter Fischli, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas called Flaneurs in Automobiles explores what each brings away from this landmark project.


Anonymous said...

I'm about to order that book - something I had never heard of 5 minutes ago.

Anonymous said...

This book was the big seller during PhotoLA at the Schaden booth. I'd guess that half the people who picked it up wound up buying one. It's a beauty. I hope you enjoy it.

Doug Rickard said...

Also for me...

I am going to buy it immediately, never having heard of it a few minutes ago.

Thanks Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info Jeff. Book looks great. I did notice that the cover in your image is different from the cover shown on the German web site. Can you clarify? Also, Amazon lists two versions - one of them not yet published. Any idea which is which? Thanks for any clarity.


Anonymous said...

The cover I show is what it looks like. I have no idea about the Amazon listings but did see the one I have listed there with the same cover. Pretty sure there is only one book. Sometimes publishers release early press material with alternate covers before settling on the actual printed version.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I find it really annoying that publishers do that. I think Steidl might be the major perpetrator. Often, the advance cover is better than the actual cover but post-publication, the old proposed covers are still found on the internet in eBay listings, etc., so one has a lingering notion that some copies with the alternate cover might actually exist.

Anonymous said...

Come friends, be brave, hold strong, face up to debilitating uncertainty ...and seek out that alternative cover.

Anonymous said...

My advice, sir: Make your own cover.

Anonymous said...

i got it wonderfull book thank you marc

Anonymous said...

Hey jeff.
I'm the first anonymous who wrote about this book.
So I received it in the morning and, well, my first thought was that the editing you made had distorted the content of the book.
The photos as you show them seem to be printed on wide, horizontal pages as if they had been made by an accidental Dan Graham/DiCorcia. At least, it is what I assumed.
Actually, the book isn't very large, it is vertical and most of the photos are pretty small, far from being impressive or spectacular.
But for that precise reason, the book is even more intriguing than expected. It has its own strange qualities and standards.
Overall, a very stimulating object.
Thanks again.