...that glass of ice water in the face, that bracing slap across the mouth, that reprimand for the fat on one’s bourgeois soul, known as modern architecture.
?Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House
In 1968, three instructors from the Yale School of Art and Architecture spent 10 days in Las Vegas conducting a "studio" for their graduate students. From that experience, and from a previous paper entitled "A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning From Las Vegas," a book was born.
What has come to be known simply as Learning from Las Vegas catapulted the authors into a fame that has been longer lasting than mere notoriety. Authors Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour dared to question the established philosophies of modernist art and architecture and then publicly label those philosophies as crap.
They did it in style. MIT Press published the first edition in an oversized format, with a printed glassine wrap, extensive graphics, and beautiful photographs. In the revised edition, author Denise Scott Brown writes that "This new edition of LLV arose from the displeasure expressed by students and others at the price of the original version." In 1972, the first edition sold for $25.00.
The photos of a Vegas that disappeared long ago are a pleasure in themselves, in many places evoking none other than Edward Ruscha, especially his book Every Building on the Sunset Strip.
The revised edition is a smaller format, and the graphics have of course been reduced. The one bright point in the revised edition is that the text is easier to read, as the first edition had triple spacing between the lines. A new copy of the revised edition costs $23.95.
Philosophy and architecture have always been in bed together. That liaison makes Learning from Las Vegas a hard read for those of us who are not graduate students in either discipline. Christopher Caldwell has written an excellent and accessible short article about the book and its impact; I highly suggest reading it even if you’re still carrying scars from other architecture/philosophy mash-ups.
With architecture, most of us pretty much know what we like, even if we don’t know why we like it. After analyzing the history and studying the aesthetics, the truth is that someone has to pay for the building to be constructed, and the truth is that business built Las Vegas. The business of Las Vegas is to make money, which goes a long way in explaining why it looks the way it does.