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Viva Lost Wages, The Many Faces of Las Vegas.
By Adrian Taylor – WorldNewsVine
A city of great expectations and underwhelming realities, marked as the entertainment capital of the world, amongst other things. Through mass marketing and serendipitous beginnings Vegas became a world icon of entertainment and warping perception.
The issue is the romanticisation of Vegas; it is seen in an idealised form but in fact has a Disneyland quality to it. The picturesque and the spectacle far outweigh high Architecture and Art. The only signs of higher culture exist at the in-house boutiques to reclaim any of the high rollers’ winnings one transaction at a time. It is at all scales that Vegas displays itself deprived of reality.
In media, portrayed as was America itself, the land of opportunity; the land for great wealth and fortune. The bright lights and big city effect of places such as New York, nightlife reigned supreme and in Las Vegas was within the casinos: never ending. In person it beckons you with its free shows, ‘No Cover’ clubs and endless drinks for those who stay at the tables. In reality each casino is just a dressed gambling hall each with a new frock; the decorated shed is done better by some than others.
The Las Vegas Strip, a home of “Commercial Architecture” [James O’Brien 2000], emulation of architectural precedents each to fit a theme and the desires of the client. These are projects and as projects they must be profitable by giving what the general public [and/or their demographic] want. They share with many other developments such as the Getty the same paradigm, to create a “psychoaesthetic process of lifestyle creation”[James O’Brien 2000], to go beyond a well-executed theme but to anticipate the needs of those who inhabit the space, affecting them in their decisions. ‘Everybody’s a winner’ often chanted by Carny folk to reassure and tempt those passersby; Casinos create a feeling of prestige for those who occupy the controlled surroundings.
Vegas treats the passerby as a moth, flying past in our cars at great speed; they use glitter and glow against the infinite gloom of the seemingly empty sky behind to attract us in. Once inside we are within this infinity again, dark walls and glowing machines with flickering code and cadence of tone to attract those passersby. “It’s subspaces makes for privacy, protection, concentration and control” [Robert Venturi 1977] as one loses track of their sense that to the ‘house’ are not necessary.
At the scale of the patron one loses track of time and space into the infinite space and the infinite night only kept in time by the rhythm of luck: Win win win, lose lose lose. The slots present inconsequential actions, winnings that equate to less than one’s bet and have a slow take of your balance until it is depleted. To the patron though it is just part of the game, the loose and tight machines are a part of a casino, past lady luck much care is taken in creating this environment.
The Casino floor is centralized and often pushed to the street facing edge, made unavoidable in the organization of the spaces. From the patio to the main spaces there is a shift in scale from the monumental to the human, it is exaggerated to create almost a sense of relief to enter the oasis. Within the oasis “the circulation of the whole focuses on the gambling rooms” [Robert Venturi 1977], it is unavoidable and thus melds into the subconscious and the experience.
From one casino to another each melds spaces to meld their patrons, they create the seemingly impossible to wow and amaze, once the gems have lost their splendor and the spectacle loses its luster the parts that make a casino remain the same. From the miniature Statue of Liberty to the “Disney-fied version of Rome’s Spanish Steps” [Robert Goodman 1998] Vegas has an answer to every wish or whim one ever asked for and even those they didn’t, they use a formulaic manner to meet these needs; Taking an idealized form and vernacular, ‘Disney-fy’ it and place in the necessities: a buffet, a showroom and a convention space, grand check-in, entertainment, retail, and of course the gambling floor.
As there are social classes there are classes of casino: from the high end luxury hotel-casinos to the ‘locals’ casinos that are reminiscent of an RSL.
The luxury come without a definite theme, in the Disney sense, but has an agreed and upheld language. The newer casinos and shopping within city center such as The Aria and Crystals demonstrate the use of contemporary architecture within Vegas, though refreshing is still only a guise. The Bellagio holds itself as one of the better balances between casino and resort whilst keeping its theme. It gives a brighter and more luxurious approach to the casino floor, the ornate and lavish; the vast horizontal space is broken up by twisting circulatory routes with subspaces of the tables separated by awnings and tassel that creates the feeling of a private space in the massive floor. It is this detour from “the big, low mazes” [Robert Venturi 1977] of traditional casinos and should be the standard of casinos as the Venetian has adopted.
The Paris uses the dark space to create a cliché romance of street lights and evening bars in the piazza, it uses the established tools of the low dark space and combines them with the thematic desires to be greater than the sum of its parts. The Paris and the Venetian are closer to the romanticized Europe than Europe itself to some. Though when it comes to the New York New York, it is spot on for all the wrong reasons.
As one climbs down the rankings of the top casinos one finds the Illusion breaks down, without being fueled by alcohol and adrenalin the New York skyline and the Sphinx seem amazing monuments but once within their bounds the tables and retail feel plastic and that “the largely artificial landscape” [Robert Goodman 1998] of Vegas centers on redressing gambling by any means.
The spaces seem to lose their identity to better suit what a customer may want as the water massagers and oxygen bars are seated next to the jousting ring and the obelisk. The initial intention of creating a fantasy fell second to profitability with new gimmicks and fashions diluting any sensibilities or language they had.
From the client’s whim to the architect’s vision comes the designer’s rendering; once approved by the client it becomes paramount and “It stands next to the client, casting its shadow equally over all those involved” [James O’Brien 2000]. The design though is never complete as unless a casino remains relevant it goes the way the Landmark did and adds to the many plots of land yet to be filled or refilled. A casino must either shift with the flavors of the month or be re-imagined once its style has lost its luster. It is common practice now to renovate casinos as currently the Sahara and as seen above the Imperial Palace have undertaken; The Palace striped of its orientally inspired ornamentation to be reproposed as the ‘Quad’, a metamorphosis of relevance, the ultimate redressing of space.
As these sheds remain the same the decoration is ever shifting, to affect the visitor in a manner profitable. There is no sacred space in Vegas, all circulates around the tourist and all will be warped, pulled and pushed to the extremes. The speed in which parts of the strip are torn down and rebuilt suggest the lifespan of a casino “nearer to that of an automobile than a building” [Robert Venturi 1977].
Fremont Street: once greater than the current strip it housed some of the first and most iconic casinos. Though Fremont Street could fit in some of the larger casinos it still acts as a destination of its own. It’s form is more horizontal than the great towers of the strip yet still fit with the monumental great low space. These are more evidently decorated sheds as they rely solely on their signage, the Paris and Caesars though have their signs, also have their monumentality. The Fremont Street casinos must compensate by cladding all surfaces with glitter and gleam. A continual arms race “consistently toward a more and bigger symbolism” [Robert Venturi 1977] was held between each casino and the one next door; Everything was built to greater catch the eye of the next patron.
Fremont Street as a whole gave itself monumentality with the great Fremont Street Experience the epitome of ‘electrographics’ created what is still today a destination within itself creating constant action. With each 30 minute show a crowd gathers exiting the casinos to gaze upwards, one view margined by the signs on either side and stalls to navigate through for the best view; with each shows’ end the crowd moves on to find a new place within whatever catches their eye next.
The Red Rock, due to its context has some unique aesthetic circumstances, limitations and subsequent innovation. Summerlin, a suburb of reaction, it distances itself from the main strip in more than the geographical. Through many local bylaws and planning agreements Summerlin has developed the architectural opposite to the oasis of the strip; The desert landscaping and earth tones create a relationship to the context, both to the land and to itself for the town has a cohesion unlike the eclectic nature of the strip.
The Red Rock reflects this ideal, in its use of materials and choice of pallet it feels as part of the suburb as a Mega-casino ever could. On street symbolism has been outlawed and all sense of commercial identity suppressed to counter the nature of the popularised image of Vegas; Summerlin removes symbol to the point of impracticality as one could drive past a 7-11 in dire need of fuel without notice for its iconic signage has been stripped.
It suggests symbolism needed in the “New landscape of big spaces, high speeds, and complex programs”[Robert Venturi 1977]. How our image of a space meets the reality for without the golden arches how one would ever find the imagined destination.
Las Vegas is a city of image, it re-images itself through cityscape cosmetic surgery from a new bar to a new mega casino it is an informal and organic growth. Each new organism fighting against the others in the small petri dish that is Vegas in the sterile and arid Nevada desert. All of this action covering the bland machines, each casino has the same vocabulary of slots and tables; It is hard to see “each flamboyant casino as anything but unique”[Robert Venturi 1977]. It is the image that matters, the atmosphere that must separate them from all else, the creation of a romanticized Vegas is integral to it’s success. Each environment, a time capsule or fantasy lived out in reality for one to feel comfortable and content; as long as there is a fantasy one will never want to leave.
Venturi, R., Brown, D.S., Izenour, S. 1977, Learning from Las Vegas. Revised edn, The MIT press, Massachusetts.
Goodman, R. 1998, Still Learning from Las Vegas, Perspecta, Vol. 29 (1998), pp. 86-96.
O’Brien, J, 2000. Las Vegas Today: Rome in a Day, Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 68-79.
All photos taken by myself: Adrian Taylor, on location.