Learning from Las Vegas  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Learning from Las Vegas published studies of the Las Vegas Strip undertaken by a 1970 research and design studio Venturi taught with Scott Brown at Yale's School of Architecture and Planning. Learning from Las Vegas was a further rebuke to orthodox modernism and elite architectural tastes. The book coined the terms "Duck" and "Decorated Shed" as applied to opposing architectural building styles." --Sholem Stein

Not innovating wilfulness,
But reverence for the Archetype.

--"Greek Architecture" (1891) by Herman Melville from Timoleon

"Incessant new beginnings lead to sterility"--Wallace Stevens

"I like boring things." --Andy Warhol

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (1972) is a book by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Translated into 18 languages, the book had a major impact on the emergence of postmodernism. On the book's cover was a billboard advertising “Tan Hawaiian with Tanya”[1]. The book was influenced by Peter Blake, God's Own Junkyard (1964) and it reproduced two of its photos: "Big Duck" and a road scene with an ESSO billboard[2].



In March 1968, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote and published “A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas” (Architectural Forum, March 1968). That following fall, the two created a research studio for graduate students at Yale School of Art and Architecture. The studio was called "Learning from Las Vegas, or Form Analysis as Design Research".

Izenour, a graduate student in the studio, accompanied his senior tutor colleagues, Venturi and Scott Brown, to Las Vegas in 1968 together with nine students of architecture, and four planning and graphics students to study the urban form of the city.

Las Vegas was regarded as a "non-city" and as an outgrowth of a "strip", along which were placed parking lots and singular frontages for gambling casinos, hotels, churches and bars. The research group studied various aspects of the city, including the commercial vernacular, lighting, patterns, styles and symbolism in the architecture. Venturi and Scott Brown created a taxonomy for the forms, signs, and symbols they encountered. The two were inspired by the emphasis on sign and symbol they found on the Las Vegas strip. The result was a critique of Modern architecture, demonstrated most famously in the comparison between the "duck" and "decorated shed."

The "duck" represents a large part of modernist architecture, which was expressive in form and volume. In contrast, the "decorated shed" relies on imagery and sign. Virtually all architecture prior to the Modern Movement used decoration to convey meaning, often profound but sometimes simply perfunctory, such as the signage on medieval shop fronts. Only Modernist architecture eschewed such ornament, relying only on corporeal or structural elements to convey meaning. As such, argued the authors, Modern buildings became mute and vacuous, especially when built for corporate or government clients.


Learning from Las Vegas caused a stir in the architectural world upon its publication, as it was hailed by progressive critics for its bold indictment of Modernism, and by the status quo as blasphemous. A split among young American architects occurred during the 1970s, with Izenour, Venturi, Robert A.M. Stern, Charles Moore and Allan Greenberg defending the book as "The Greys", and Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, and Michael Graves writing against its premises as "The Whites." It became associated with post-modernism when magazines such as Progressive Architecture published articles citing its influence on the younger generation. When Tom Wolfe wrote his often-pilloried book, From Bauhaus to Our House, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour were among the heroes the author praised for their stand against heroic Modernism.


Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments.
This revision includes the full texts of Part I of the original, on the Las Vegas strip, and Part II, "Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed," a generalization from the findings of the first part on symbolism in architecture and the iconography of urban sprawl. (The final part of the first edition, on the architectural work of the firm Venturi and Rauch, is not included in the revision.) The new paperback edition has a smaller format, fewer pictures, and a considerably lower price than the original. There are an added preface by Scott Brown and a bibliography of writings by the members of Venturi and Rauch and about the firm's work. --from the publisher

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Learning from Las Vegas" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools