Alexandra Lange | Essays

Still Ugly After All These Years

What We Learned: The Yale Las Vegas Studio and the Work of Venturi Scott Brown & Associates closes tomorrow at the Yale School of Architecture, so unless you are already in New Haven, you missed it. But the exhibition provoked some excellent commentary (by Julie Iovine, among others) and made me think again about Learning from Las Vegas, the Venturis, and the question of tacky.

LLV (as I always write it in my notes, along with other architectural shorthand, C+C, LeC, FLW, DNYC, and so on) is always being misunderstood as a valorization of Las Vegas, as if Venturi and Scott Brown went out there and fell in love with the city. But they didn’t. They are no supporters of the American road, merely clinical and academic onlookers, smart enough to see there was a language of Las Vegas but not willing, except in a few cases, to use that language. Those few cases are among my favorite examples of their work: the huge flowers on the Best Products Showroom, the Nikko Kirifuri Hotel and Spa promenade. These two projects have a bigness, a brightness, and a borderline tastelessness that speaks to me of Vegas and commercialism and a willingness to go beyond modernism that is refreshing. That the latter borrows from the less fastidious idiom of Charles Moore is no surprise.

But most of the time (and in the Yale exhibition, a bombastic installation of this most of the time took up the center of the A+A Gallery, a misprision of what people were there for) I think they take the lessons of Las Vegas and turn them into flatter, mauver, cheaper versions. The Sainsbury Wing always looks to me like the ballroom in one of those decorated shed hotels turned inside-out, all applied molding and peach accents. Rather than accepting the box and freeing the plan, the interiors of many VSB projects look tortured and compressed. They think the modern architects hurt us by trying to fit life’s functions into a geometric shape; I think they hurt us (or at least Vanna Venturi) by giving her the a dismal uncomfortable living room. There has always been a huge gap for me between the humor of the writing, the erudition of the examples, and the architecture in person. This exhibition showed again how epochal and still not entirely understood LLV was, both for architects in general and for the architects of LLV themselves.

Posted in: Architecture, History

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