LAS VEGAS AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

Conventional wisdom holds that Las Vegas is deviant and the Strip a display of architectural freaks. But a closer look shows that the city is more representative of American architectural trends than we would like to admit. Since its beginning, Vegas developers have surfed waves of social, cultural and economic change to build casinos so compelling that they actually drew vacationers to the Mojave Desert. From exploiting Disneyland to the atom bomb to the sexual revolution to “green” building, the Strip mirrored America as a whole.Las Vegas was a ghost town a century ago, but forty-two million people visited the desert city in 2015—ten million more than Paris. Today, Vegas is more influential than ever as a model for urban development. Macau reclaimed hundreds of acres of the South China Sea, only to build a Las Vegas-style Strip. Even Singapore, a nation known for outlawing chewing gum, built its new flagship business district around a Las Vegasstyle casino. In 2007, the Brand Ranking survey saw Las Vegas rise to America’s number two brand, behind only Google. Yet architects have largely refused to take the city seriously—even though the time it was taken seriously, it had a major impact on the profession. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s seminal Learning from Las Vegas helped overthrow modernism, an architectural style that for decades reigned supreme, and invent postmodernism, which would influence architects worldwide.