The architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown on a 1968 field trip to Las Vegas. Their explorations led them to an important book and a rethinking of vernacular architecture. (Photo: VSBA Archives)


The architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown on a 1968 field trip to Las Vegas. Their explorations led them to an important book and a rethinking of vernacular architecture.

When Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown boarded a plane bound for Las Vegas in 1968 with a dozen of their Yale architecture students in tow, there were no multimillion-dollar water shows or pirate ships waiting for them. There were no van Goghs in the hotel galleries. Nor could residents of the city live in tilting condo towers designed by Helmut Jahn and shop in a mall by Daniel Libeskind. Whatever glamour Las Vegas had was all veneer.

Mr. Venturi and Ms. Scott Brown, who had just married and would soon be business partners, were on a search for a way out of the dead end of postwar Modernism, whose early hopes had by then deteriorated into a dreary functionalism. The book they produced four years later, “Learning From Las Vegas,” was one of the last of the big architectural manifestos and a heartfelt embrace of American popular culture that would be hard to imagine anyone attempting today.

“What We Learned: The Yale Las Vegas Studio and the Work of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates,” which is on view at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery through Feb. 5, looks at the extensive research the architects did in Las Vegas, though it doesn’t place the results in a context that would allow you to reevaluate the impact the project had on a profession starved for a new way forward. Nor do you get a feel for the place Las Vegas held in the popular imagination four years after Tom Wolfe celebrated the city’s “incredible electric sign gauntlet” in Esquire in 1964.

Still, it is a must-see for those who want to recapture momentarily the euphoric sense of discovery that came out of those early trips, as well as get a refresher course on their conclusions, which still have things to teach us.

More

Nicolai Ouroussoff
New York Times

Advertisements