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Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form [Paperback]

Robert Venturi , Denise Scott Brown , Steven Izenour
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jan 1977
Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments.This revision includes the full texts of Part I of the original, on the Las Vegas strip, and Part II, "Ugly and Ordinary Architecture, or the Decorated Shed," a generalization from the findings of the first part on symbolism in architecture and the iconography of urban sprawl. (The final part of the first edition, on the architectural work of the firm Venturi and Rauch, is not included in the revision.) The new paperback edition has a smaller format, fewer pictures, and a considerably lower price than the original. There are an added preface by Scott Brown and a bibliography of writings by the members of Venturi and Rauch and about the firm's work.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; Revised edition edition (1 Jan 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026272006X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262720069
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.4 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"...a brilliant document of the times...a work which uses history knowledgeably, skillfully, and creatively: a rarity." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians "...professionally informed, competitively astute, and perversely brilliant..." The Yale Review "...these studies are brilliant...the kind of art history and theory that is rarely produced." The New York Times Ada Louis Huxtable

About the Author

Robert Venturi is an award-winning architect and an influential writer, teacher, artist, and designer. His work includes includes the Sainsbury Wing of London's National Galler; renovation of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; dozens of major academic projects; and the groundbreaking Vanna Venturi House. Denise Scott Brown is a Founding Principal of Venturi, Scott, Brown, and Associates (VBSA) whose work and ideas have influenced generations of architects and planners. Steven Izenour (1940-2001) was coauthor of Learning from Las Vegas (MIT Press, 1977) and a principal in the Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc (VSBA). His most noted projects at VSBA include Philadelphia's Basco showroom, the George D. Widener Memorial Treehouse at the Philadelphia Zoo, the Camden Children's Garden, and the house he designed for his parents in Stony Creek, Connecticut.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Learning from the existing landscape is a way of being revolutionary for an architect. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great architectural book 3 Nov 2011
This is a book that every architect or person who is interested in architecture should have in his library!!!it is a book I read about a lot as a student in architecture.I hope that in the future it could be translated into greek as well
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2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars 27 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Written by academics for other academics. Not for the layman.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! 24 Feb 2007
Currently writing my final year architecture thesis on symbolism, and this book has come in great use!

Its orientation around vegas is easily related to other symbolism!

Its a must read if your on the plane to vegas! It doesnt revolve completely around architecture I would recommend anyone who plans to visit! Also great illustrations and lots of pictures!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great 9 Jan 2012
By C
Really enjoyed this book,was in great condition and arrived promptly.really interesting read and images also very varied worth picking up!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant study of signage and architecture 10 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Robert Venturi's study of the Las Vegas signage phenomena and it's impact on "architecture" is brilliant in it's scope. While written almost twenty five years ago, this book gains more and more pertinence as we as a society progress further into a "reality" of symbols, reproductions and representations. These words and thoughts are basically essential to the understanding of any city anymore, not just Las Vegas. Where this book misses the mark though is in the execution, as shown in Venturi's work, of these ideas. The projects put forth seem to pale in comparison to the implications the text actually has. These notions of architecture are by far some of the most relevant and important in modern theory today, it is unfortunate that their full potential could not be realized in these projects.... but maybe that is for you and I to do.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic in architecture theory 28 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
The title "father of Post Modernism" has been appropriately assigned to Robert Venturi....and it began with this book: Learning from Las Vegas. Written at a time when minimalism in art, and "form follows function" in architecture were the dominant ideas, Venturi et al threw down the gauntlet in challenging the practicing and accademic establishment with such sacriligious slogans as "Less is a bore" (challenging the modernist notion "Less is more")
Venturi should open the eyes of readers who self rightiously condemn today's highway commercial architecture and signage. Venturi challenges us to look at this urbanscape with fresh eyes...to see and understand the order (both functional and visual) in what we have been conditioned to condemn.
The book is well illustrated and gives examples of "the duck" and the "decorated shed" as metaphorical strategies to attract attention to highway commericial buildings.Anyone interested in architecture history and contemporary planning issues should read this book. It may piss you off, but it might also open your eyes to new ways of seeing.
In 1999 it would be interesting to compare Las Vegas to Pleasantville...and to learn in the process about change and the American culture that seems to embrace an ever changing urban landscape. Just as in the mythical Pleasantville in the movie of same name, Venturi upsets the status quo and gets us to see the colors (though sometimes messy and glaring) of the REAL city.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I just don't know... 11 April 2008
By curt dilger - Published on Amazon.com
I admire and respect Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown for their great career and contribution to architecture, which has yet to be fully assessed. The depth of their thinking, the vigilant efforts to achieve their aesthetic vision, their desire to overcome modernist dogma, which had mutated into marginalized elite uncivic abstraction, falsely denying vibrant areas of life...how can one argue with the importance and value of such work?

Let me try.

To me, this book represents one of the most interesting turning points of an architectural career, very similar to Rem Koolhaas' essay on Bigness in S,M,L,XL.

Both texts are attempting to give themselves an elite artist's alibi for co-opting the corporate machinery's unself-conscious production. Here, both artists (VRSB and OMA)attempt to escape into pop art, just like their friend Andy Warhol, thumbing his nose at the self important abstract expressionists.

There's just one problem with this; they are architects, not just artists.
And this places them in significantly different political territory. Architects build in the public sphere, and therefore have a powerful civic impact. They enable some political forces, and, by physical default, suppress others. If they were artists, their voice is a singular one, an unsponsored comment, to be entertained or dismissed. Architecture cannot be waved away.

So, being architects, is 'Learning from Las Vegas' and 'Bigness' an elite artist's manifesto, or a cynical architect's effort to solicit clients from the bloated and most lucrative areas of commerce? The ambiguity is disturbing, because ultimately it has proven out not to matter what their intention. Both Venturi and Rem Koolhaas have been most useful tools for the most egregious excesses of our runaway imperial corporate world.

And this is a sad legacy for two brilliant architectural careers. No matter what their aesthetic accomplishments in the way of rarified architectural thought, the more brutal reality is that architects seeking fame cannot also speak truth to power. This gravely undermines their civic responsibilities.
I am reminded of William Morris' quote, a sad retrospective look at his career, saying that ultimately, his work "only served the swinish luxuries of the rich." A bitter realization for a socialist, one who chose to retreat into archaic craft, instead of trendy pop.

Pop architecture is not a game. It is an insidious symptom of the polarization of wealth, a symptom that Venturi and Koolhaas cheerfully enable, both with their particular form of dissociating irony. They can play with it as a theory, but it has wrought disastrous consequences in the physical and political landscape. Same thing happened to Frank Gehry, another symptomatic starchitectural monster, who apparently doesn't need to theorize. Hard to say when the deal went down exactly. I just don't know.
36 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Architectural Nightmare 17 Jan 2004
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
This is a quite unusual and offbeat treatise on architectural theory, as applied to the world's greatest architectural monstrosity - Las Vegas. This analysis from the early 1970s is obviously outdated because Las Vegas hadn't yet become the monument to megalomania and excess that it is today, but it was already well on its way. The authors analyze Vegas' unique usages of space, lighting, placement, transportation, and building design for the purposes of communication and promotion. Strange chapter titles give a clue to the left-field analysis in store, and the authors have a clear sense of irony, underhandedly implying that Vegas presents the worst in architecture while they appear to be praising its uniqueness. Unfortunately the narrative gets bogged down in dense professor-speak terminology like "Brazilianoid" and "neo-Constructivist megastructures," along with a general overload of obtuse theory. Add to that the poor-quality and under-elaborated illustrations and you have a book that sacrifices insight and readability in favor of pedantic attempts to impress the authors' colleagues. [~doomsdayer520~]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to Be Confused with Post Modernism 21 Nov 2012
By Randall L. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
"Learning from Las Vegas" is a powerful argument for challenging root assumptions. In this particular case its assumptions about architecture and how modernism wanted to strip away ornamentation in favor promoting form and space. "Learning from Las Vegas" sees this as just another form of bias.

In part one, the authors looked back to older forms, found in the renaissance and beyond where churches were as much about signs and symbols as space and form. They see the Vegas strip in particular as a great example of the promotion of signs and symbols as integral to the structures. This wasn't merely ornamentation nor was it decorative. The Strip is a commercial zone and successful architecture is that which first stands out with its message and then engages the viewer with it. That isn't a nice byproduct of architecture that is essential to making the architecture successful.

Part two is entitled, "ugly and ordinary architecture or the decorated shed," which is most powerful in comparing two ordinary senior housing complexes which come from very different architectural aesthetics. One, the "Crawford Manor" is a poster child for modern architecture and the other the "Guild House" looks as if it had no architecture. What is interesting about this comparison is that it doesn't attempt to show that one approach is superior than the other only the architecturally driven building, the "Crawford Manor" ends up as boring and flawed as the less designed "Guild House." Unity and consistency in achieving an architectural vision isn't enough to make a successful building. Fun, whimsy and accessibility of style are even more important.

I could see where this book which promotes architectural fun and accessibility could be seen as an argument for Post-Modernism but instead the book isn't ready to concede that modernism won the argument. The book instead undermines the very essence of modernism - the triumph of space and form over ornamentation that post modernism necessarily embraces.
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