Unanticipated Urbanity: Revisiting Las Vegas

Las Vegas isn\’t phony anything: it has its own resounding, relentless identity. And Vegas is arguably the most interesting American city of the moment, the city most informed by the current state of American mass culture. The Las Vegas strip, long shaped by car culture, is now generating sidewalk extravaganzas aimed at a neglected desert species, the pedestrian. . . . The attempt to make the Strip a continuous, mesmerizing wall of marketing has created, without benefit of planning, one of the most pedestrian-oriented urban scenes in the Western U.S. Morris Newman in Progressive Architecture, February 1995. The casino as a building type has undergone a series of mutations from the singularity of the gaming room to today\’s mega-hotel complex. New casino complexes are evolving themed environments into multi-billion dollar extravaganzas, which combine hotel programs with a variety of entertainments and attractions into a single experience. Casinos have become miniature cities – perhaps heralding the future of urban environments – a microcosm for the global processes of capital, which affect other spatial productions. In addition to the development of themed fantasy interiors a new phenomena has also emerged – the fantasy exterior. Walk along the Strip today and one would see rows of clipped Cypress that line glitzy fountains and large reflecting pools of water in front of the casinos and hotel buildings which, at night, are bathed in aquamarine colored lights. At Caesar\’s Palace white Classical sculptures gleam amidst triumphal arches while gold fiberglass centurions stand guard over the imperial realm (Fourth Nature, by Edith Katz in Precis, The GSAP Student Publication http://www.arch.columbia.edu/Pub/Precis/site/13/ekatz.html In an apparent triumph of new urban pedestrianization these fantasy exteriors are replacing the electronic signage and the building-as-sign, made famous by \”Learning from Las Vegas.\” These three dimensional environmental art pieces are dematerializing the very presence of the building while animating a new pedestrian experience in what has been, the archetypal, auto dominated Strip.While we struggle in conventional terms with how to make our urban situations more pedestrian focused and how to accommodate mixed use, Las Vegas seems to be succeeding in these terms. Are there lessons that might be learned from Las Vegas\’s success? Are we indeed witnessing the emergence of the future of urban civilization, and what does that future mean? If Las Vegas is indeed in a process of transformation to what ultimate configuration is it aspiring?