A new visitor to Las Vegas, or even one who hasn’t been there in a decade or two, can’t help but be overwhelmed by the mix of architectural styles butting cheek to cheek. Fortunately, Dutch architect Stefan Al is here with a new book, The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream (The MIT Press, 2017) to clean up the apparent mess.
Las Vegas has never had a problem reinventing itself, so it’s relatively easy for Al to break down the Strip’s architecture into seven distinct phases. Older readers will remember casinos like El Rancho and the Last Frontier from the “Wild West” era (1941-1946) and the Flamingo and the Sands from Al’s 12-year-old labels “Sunbelt Modern” (1946-1958) . Middle-aged tourists will remember “Pop City” (1958-1969) and “Corporate Modern” (1969-1985) – think the Stardust, Aladdin, and Golden Nugget for the former and the MGM Grand for the latter.
Younger Las Vegas visitors will be familiar with the Disneyfication of the Strip (1985-1995) as manifested in casino projects like Excalibur and Treasure Island. More recently, “Sim City” (1995-2001) has led to developments that recreate scaled-down versions of other locations. There’s the fake beach at Mandalay Bay, the tiny skyline of New York, New York, the Eiffel Tower Experience, and, perhaps most depressingly, Sheldon Adelson’s The Venetian, where marble statues are reproduced from polyurethane and styrofoam, and the simulated Rialto Bridge has moving walks and “Does not span the Grand Canal, but an access road for vehicles”. Al closes with a chapter on “Starchitecture”, which presents the work of renowned architects such as César Pelli (ARIA) and Daniel Libeskind (Crystals Mall).
The thesis of the book is that Las Vegas is not an architectural outlier, but has always shaped and been shaped by the rest of America by providing “a template for practices of city branding, spatial production and control, and high-risk investments in urban” spaces. “It’s not a particularly comforting thought, but at the end of The Strip, it’s hard to disagree. In conclusion,” Today we all live in Las Vegas. ”
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