VIDEO VAULT: Learning design from Las Vegas' past
Las Vegas is the backdrop for plenty of comedies and dramas both in print and on screen. The Strip has also been the focus of many a scholarly examination, including a now classic study on design, undertaken nearly five decades ago by a trio of Yale professors.
“Well Venturi, Scott-Brown and Izenour in the late 60s were working in a postmodern form of architecture then,” says UNLV Professor David Schwartz. “And this was really against the establishment.”
Schwartz is Director of the university’s Gaming Research Department, and says Las Vegas had developed a reputation around the country for gaming and nightlife.
“A lot of people just saw neon signs and casinos.”
But the Yale professors were interested in what drew people in beyond just a chance to gamble.
“They were looking at what Las Vegas did well, which was at the time to take pretty plain looking buildings and dress them up with signs and make them more exciting.”
The trio gathered their findings in a book, "Learning From Las Vegas", which provided examples of an emerging new style.
“Well, the original Stardust which was the low-rise, just the motel wings. That was definitely one,” points out Schwartz. “Places like the Frontier, which had a great sign. Places like the Dunes, which also had a fantastic sign. So these are places where the sign really dominated over the building itself.”
It wasn’t just the information in the book that was eye-opening, but the way it was laid out; artistically arranged to capture a visual record of Las Vegas.
“And you really couldn't do that by just having pictures in a book,” says Schwartz while pointing out examples among the pages. “And they had to do creative things like this, like having this series of photos wrap around. I believe what this is supposed to represent is you driving down Las Vegas Boulevard and seeing the different signs as you go.”
How does the 60s and 70s styles of unremarkable buildings eye-catching signs hold up today?
“They don't really apply,” observes Schwartz. “It's very interesting because now in the past couple of years, the modern architecture has come to dominate in Las Vegas with Wynn, with City Center.”
But the lessons in "Learning From Las Vegas" are very much alive.
“Architecture classes still use the book,” notes Schwartz. “I think still it's definitely a reference. For people from Las Vegas, some of the architectural theory might be a little bit abstruse. But I think they'll really enjoy seeing a lot of the older pictures.
Very little of the Strip looks similar to five decades ago, but images and artifacts are preserved at UNLV Special Collections, the Neon Museum, Nevada State Museum and more.