BY STEFAN AL 04.11.17 | 9:00 AM
The Most American City Isn’t New York, L.A., Or Chicago
Long dismissed, this one city’s design gets the credit it’s due in a new book from MIT Press.
“Editors’ Note: In The Strip, a new book from MIT Press, Stefan Al–an architect, urban designer, and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania–compares the evolution of Las Vegas to the cultural metamorphosis of the American dream. The following chapter is excerpted, with permission.”
“The Strip began as an exception. But increasingly it has become a rule—in its holistically designed and multisensory environments, in being technologically wired and “smart,” in patterns of urban development, in financial practices, and in aesthetic tastes. For decades, Vegas marketed itself as an over-the-top series of urban stunts. But this seemingly outrageous behavior took advantage of fundamental changes in American society. The urbanistic role of Vegas has also taken a turn. The Strip began as essentially anti-urban, with inwardly oriented resorts located outside of the incorporated city of Las Vegas. Today, the Strip is a major pedestrian space with casinos that contribute to a larger urban experience. Vegas has now even become a model for 21st-century urbanism that other cities are seeking to emulate. Not only that, the city provides lessons for anyone called upon to create landmarks, attention-getters, fantasy environments, spectacular images, or memorable experiences. I personally witnessed the city’s impact as an architect when Chinese clients for the world’s largest tower, after a visit to the Strip, wanted the Bellagio’s musical fountains. They wanted Vegas.”
STEFAN AL continues:
From its inception in 1941, the Strip has mutated beyond even its own wildest dreams. In the 1940s, Strip developers dressed like cowboys, some packing real guns, built hacienda-style casinos that broke ground with moving neon displays as big as windmills. By the 1950s, casino builders replaced the wagon wheels with Cadillac tailfin forms, and pumped underwater Muzak into exotically shaped pools. The 1960s neon signs, as tall as 20-story buildings and as long as two football fields, were ripped down in the 1970s when the emphasis shifted to the buildings themselves, and chandeliers the size of trucks. By the next decade, the chandeliers had been replaced by a 10-story, laser-eyed sphinx and a fiery volcano spewing piña colada scent. Charmed by the world’s famous cities in the late 1990s, Las Vegas built replicas, including the Eiffel Tower, New York skyscrapers, and Venetian canals. But in the new millennium, a mere decade later, replicas were out and serious architectural originals, which housed museum-quality collections of authentic art, were in.
If any city deserves the “Makeover Award” for the most drastic changes to its image, it is Las Vegas More…