In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Meta-Magazine? Meta-Blogging? | Main | Razib, Cosmos, Meat »

December 02, 2008

Not Learning from Las Vegas

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --


This post is about architecture and Las Vegas. It's long (thanx to lotsa pix), so if neither topic is your cuppa, you have my permission to skip it.

The title of this post is a takeoff from the well-known book Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. I never read it, but it's my understanding that they contended that the Vegas architecture of the time (circa 1970) was people-oriented whereas conventional Modernist architecture wasn't so much so.

After my previous visit to Las Vegas I wrote this post about the huge project called CityCenter on the Strip that is being developed by our dear friends at MGM Mirage. I just returned from Vegas, and the present post can be taken as a "progress" report. The photos are mine -- uncropped, not Photoshopped: rock-hard reality, if I say so myself.

For general information on CityCenter, click here. Their "vision statement" is here and information about the stellar (starchitect) team that was assembled to do the designing is here.

Recent financing news of CityCenter was in this Las Vegas Review-Journal (8 October 2008) article. Key paragraph:

In a statement, the company said it had secured a $1.8 billion senior bank credit facility, which matures in April 2013. The facility is expected to be increased to $3 billion as additional commitments are received. MGM Mirage Chief Financial Officer Dan D'Arrigo said CityCenter, which has a budget of $9.2 billion, has received additional signed commitment letters totaling more than $500 million.

As you can see, the cost of the project is both huge and not yet fully funded. CityCenter and some large condominium projects are paying the price of the intrinsically risky mix of long lead-times and business cycles; coming on-line during a downturn means a diminished revenue stream.


We start with some views of the Strip as we love/tolerate/hate it now. Some of the honky-tonk of the 1970 period the Venturis wrote about remains. Changes since then include the construction of huge casinos-cum-hotels-cum-shopping malls designed around various themes ranging from Venice to King Arthur.

Yup, we're on the Vegas Strip all right.

Seems to be a Harley kind of place, that Strip.

For kids, there's the M&M store.

And the Coca-Cola store.

The Fashion Show mall is on the Strip. Inside, it's conventional, but the part facing the Strip isn't. (The foreground is part of the Wynn complex.)

More style clutter. That familiar-looking campanile is part of the Venetian.

Another themed complex is the Paris with its half-scale Eiffel Tower.

This view of the Strip was taken from the grounds of the Mirage.

Let's turn to CityCenter as it was Thanksgiving week. Note especially how large the building are as well as their architectural characteristics.

This is a hotel-condo structure as seen from the Bellagio, to the north of CityCenter. It will shade the Bellagio's swimming pool area part of the day; perhaps not a bad thing in Las Vegas' summer.

The view from the pool area of the Monte Carlo, south of CityCenter.

Two "twisted" buildings with surface patterns that alternate every three floors. Seen from the Monte Carlo.

A view from across the Strip.

Looking towards the south from a bit farther north. In the center are the twisted buildings. The building immediately to the left of CityCenter is the New York New York casino/hotel.

Here, I assume, is where the fancy shops will be located.

Finally, my most flattering photo of CityCenter.

CityCenter is supposed to open around a year from now. If I'm back in Vegas Thanksgiving week, I'll miss the event; this means it might be a couple of years before I can offer my impressions of the finished complex. At present, I still think the buildings are too large, too Modernistic and therefore too far removed from the character of Las Vegas, a place where people go with the intention of having "fun" of whatever sort. Perhaps the structures nearest the street will have lots of jazz and pizazz, leaving the big buildings as backdrop. To my way of thinking, that's the only way CityCenter can be salvaged architecturally and in terms of urbanism.

Oh, and the Harrah's casino sculpted gal at the top of this post. She's cross-eyed, isn't she? I wonder why (though I have some hypotheses).



posted by Donald at December 2, 2008


Looks like the CityCenter is the only half-decent professionally thought-out set of buildings in that joke of a city.
Thanks for the update.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 2, 2008 12:05 PM

Love that motorcycle bursting through the front of the Harley-Davidson Cafe.

I'm not looking for good taste in Vegas. Isn't Vegas all about raunchy, carny sideshow?

Vegas has become Disney with a sex life. The sex life is decidedly trashy. I like that.

The cross-eyed girl looks like a hilarious take on a Hindu goddess. Could also be a member of the cast of a Dark Brothers porno film.

It's amazing that the trashy, sex saturated "fun" that Vegas offers has become mainstream. Not where I would have expected us to go back in say... 1965.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 2, 2008 12:15 PM

ST, I'm interested that you appreciate the raunchiness of Vegas but seem to disapprove of similar pursuits elsewhere. Is it the somewhat quarantined aspect of it, or the fact that it is legally sanctioned and tied to capitalist impulses? I'm genuinely interested.

Posted by: JV on December 2, 2008 2:54 PM

I dunno..according to Mad Men poetics (the 1st season of which I was just introduced to; loving it) "trashy" was The It in 1965.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 2, 2008 4:29 PM

If the U.S. is going into a deep recession Las Vegas is staring at a full blown depression. Whenever City Center is scheduled for completion, half the floor space will be empty.

I'm 180% out of synch with Tatyana. City Center is a drear modernist horror. The Strip is vulgar and alive.

Posted by: ricpic on December 2, 2008 5:01 PM

Once, when people were nominating their favourite English word, I could think of no better word than "merry". Since it is the business of Las Vegas to be merry, I'm amazed that the educated set are being allowed to depart from its principal themes, and even replace merry old structures with the sleek cigarette-lighter stuff one sees everywhere. Okay, they're shiny...but that's no substitute for giant dice and the like. Bad enough that Vegas went all quaint and euro, now it's going workaday urban.

Here in Oz we like to think pick a local product and build a "Big" of it. The Big Oyster in Taree has been preserved but is now a Nissan dealer; but the Big Banana, Big Prawn, Big Pineapple, Big Merino are still thriving tourist drop-ins.

The thing about tastless kitsch is that it needs to be kept clean and brightly painted. The shape and materials make this difficult, but preserving the fanciful and merry is always worth it. When you're in the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour, you could let off a nuclear bomb and not scratch a single architect.

Don't misconstrue. I'm not saying you shouldn't nuke architects.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 2, 2008 5:09 PM

Robert, the Big Pineapple may be the dullest tourist drop-in I've ever drooped at.

Posted by: dearieme on December 2, 2008 8:38 PM

ricpic: Exactly.

Posted by: Sister Wolf on December 2, 2008 11:03 PM

Tell me about it, dearieme! Queenslanders can't even get vulgarity right...and that's practically all they do.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 2, 2008 11:56 PM

Never been to Las Vegas, now I definitely don't won't go there. Looks like a great place for a Star Trek or porn convention.

Posted by: slumlord on December 3, 2008 7:00 AM

Rick, I looked at the photos again, for your sake. Nope, the garbage didn't come more alive since the first time.

I didn't take you for a person who celebrates ugly and vulgar. Another sign of changing times, I guess.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 3, 2008 9:29 AM

The problem, Tat, is that I grew up in Brooklyn and spent a lot of time in New Jersey: ugly and vulgar are in my blood.

Posted by: ricpic on December 3, 2008 11:10 AM

As a base point of comparison, possibly. Your poems and paintings aren't ugly or vulgar; you must have departed from aesthetics of Number One Hot Dog Moulage diner-facade at some point.

Or you might have returned to your "call of blood"; I haven't followed your work for some time now.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 3, 2008 11:57 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?