Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas
Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas
Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas
Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas
Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas

Learning From Las Vegas / Heaven or Las Vegas

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Learning from Las Vegas is a 1972 book by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Translated into 18 languages, the book helped foster the postmodernism art movement.

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.

“Learning from the existing landscape,” Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour begin, “is a way of being revolutionary for an architect.” Perhaps more than anything else, the research methods pioneered in Learning from Las Vegas have changed the way architects practice and study, recasting quotidian landscapes as objects to be analyzed rather than ignored or denigrated. “Withholding judgement may be used as a tool to make later judgements more sensitive,” they write. “This is a way of learning from everything.”

All cities communicate messages - functional, symbolic, and persuasive_ to people as they move about. Las Vegas signs hit you at the California border and before you land at the airport. On the Strip three message systems exist: the heraldic -the signs dominates: the physiognomic, the messages given by the faces of buildings–the continuous balconies and regularly spaced picture windows of the Dunes saying HOTEL and the suburban bungalows converted to chapels by the addition of a steeple– and the – service stations are found on corner lots, the casino is in front of the hotel, and the ceremonial valet parking is in front of the casino.

All three message systems are closely interrelated on the Strip. Sometimes they are combined, as when the facade of a casino becomes one big sign or the shape of the building reflects its name, and the sign, in turn, reflects the shape.

Is the sign the building or the building the sign?

Las Vegas was regarded as a "non-city" and as an outgrowth of a "strip", along which were placed parking lots and singular frontages for gambling casinos, hotels, churches and bars. The research group studied various aspects of the city, including the commercial vernacular, lighting, patterns, styles, and symbolism in the architecture. Venturi and Scott Brown created a taxonomy for the forms, signs, and symbols they encountered. The two were inspired by the emphasis on sign and symbol they found on the Las Vegas strip. The result was a critique of Modern architecture, demonstrated most famously in the comparison between the "duck" and "decorated shed."

The "duck" represents a large part of modernist architecture, which was expressive in form and volume. In contrast, the "decorated shed" relies on imagery and sign. Virtually all architecture before the Modern Movement used decoration to convey meaning, often profound but sometimes simply perfunctory, such as the signage on medieval shop fronts. Only Modernist architecture eschewed such ornament, relying only on corporeal or structural elements to convey meaning. As such, argued the authors, Modern buildings became mute and vacuous, especially when built for corporate or government clients.

"When modern architects righteously abandoned ornament on buildings, they unconsciously designed buildings that were ornament. In promoting Space and Articulation over symbolism and ornament, they distorted the whole building into a duck. They substituted for the innocent and inexpensive practice of applied decoration on a conventional shed the rather cynical and expensive distortion of program and structure to promote a duck; minimegastructures are mostly ducks. It is now time to reevaluate the once-horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction, but we should append the warning of Pugin: It is all right to decorate construction but never construct decoration. "

Las Vegas as a Communication System
"This has been a technical studio. We are evolving new tools: analytical tools for understanding new space and form, and graphic tools for representing them.

Venturi has written a kind of poem-polemic that summarises his position. Its called 'A Disorderly Ode to Architecture That Enegages'. This is how he describes it: 'depicting what we call "loves":

What we love, what inspires us, the range of which - from Michaelangelos to bungalows – derives from our freedom and tolerance as artists and thinkers, freedom from the restrictions of ideology. 

Heaven or Las Vegas is the sixth studio album by Scottish alternative rock band Cocteau Twins, their last for the music label 4AD. It was released on 17 September 1990.

Cocteau Twins released their fifth album, Blue Bell Knoll, in 1988. Despite inking a major label deal with Capitol Records, the band declined to promote it extensively; no singles were issued outside of the United States and the album was not supported by a tour.The band brought on a manager for the first time as they ran into tax trouble previously. Watts-Russell, 4AD president at the time, reportedly "didn't care" for the new manager and his relationship with the band began to sour.

The band took on new familial responsibilities as bassist Simon Raymonde married his first wife, Karen, and vocalist Elizabeth Fraser was expecting her first child with guitarist and co-founder Robin Guthrie. The latter's cocaine habit previously "escalated" during the recording process for Blue Bell Knoll;Fraser and Raymonde believed that the new baby would prove a diversion from Guthrie's dependency and allow the pair to "play [as] happy families". Their wishes did not pan out, with Guthrie relying heavily on drugs as the band developed Heaven or Las Vegas, causing him to experience "deep" paranoia and mood swings. His relationship with Fraser grew increasingly strained as a result.

Fraser was to name the next album Heaven or Las Vegas, a suggestion of truth versus artifice, of music versus commerce, or perhaps a gamble, one last throw of the dice. "It was a great, very symbolic title," Guthrie thinks. 

In September 1989, the couple welcomed their daughter, Lucy Belle; Heaven or Las Vegas would eventually be released on her first birthday. Regarding her pregnancy, Fraser commented that she gained clarity in perception of what mattered to her most: "Suddenly I had confidence which I'd never ever had in my life, which I consequently lost after I had the baby, because it's such a frightening experience you lose it again and you have to start over again. But it does change you". Raymonde's father, Ivor Raymonde, died shortly after Lucy Belle's birth, as the band were in the middle of recording. He recounted: "I was only 27, I was still quite young and he was a very influential guy for me so that was a big blow but, looking back on it, having a major life event happening probably helped the record have that edge to it".

The album is noteworthy for the musical evolution that the band displayed at the time, with their work becoming more accessible. Fraser's lyrics were more intelligible; many concerned her newborn daughter Lucy Belle, particularly "Pitch the Baby", which is about her experience in giving birth and welcoming a child. Despite a majority of Fraser's lyrics "[emerging] in alien tongues", which she sums up as "laziness" and "bad diction", she attributed the album's more identifiable words to Lucy Belle's influence.

"There was salvation in [Fraser's vocals and lyrics] too, in terms of helping save her relationship with [Guthrie], the joy of bringing a baby into the world that they could love. It did give them a new lease of life, and it gave the album an energy and vibrancy. It was very easy to make the music".

Raymonde wrote "Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" the day after his father's death, and Heaven or Las Vegas would straddle the two themes: "[...] writing songs about birth, and also death, gave the record a darker side that I hear in songs like 'Cherry-Coloured Funk' and 'Fotzepolitic'". Despite being in a "very good space musically" and describing the recording process as an "inspirational time", Raymonde noted: "It was trying to mask all the other shit that was going on that we didn't want to stop and think about for too long". In a retrospective of 4AD by music journalist Martin Aston, he noted that Fraser named the album Heaven or Las Vegas as "a suggestion of truth versus artifice, of music versus commerce, or perhaps a gamble, one last throw of the dice".

Heaven or Las Vegas' drum programming was done by Guthrie, the first step in the template of every Cocteau Twins recording session. Guthrie and Raymonde would construct the music before Fraser stepped in the studio to record her vocals.[10] Raymonde likened Guthrie's rhythms on the album to hip hop beats–despite their music being far removed from it, he acknowledged that it came from a "dance-y" place.[7] Much of Heaven or Las Vegas' "mysterious" instrumental effects were achieved by accident, with guitars as opposed to "omnipresent" synthesizers.[10] As a result of Guthrie's decreased time in the studio, Raymonde's playing was more in the forefront and he became more involved in the recording process.[12][6] Raymonde recounted that he would record Fraser's vocals alone for days at a time, during which he first "fully appreciated how amazing she was": "She'd come into the control room and say, 'What was that like?' and I'd scrape the tears away and say, 'That was alright, Liz'. She didn't get off on praise. If I said. 'That was fucking amazing', she'd say 'I thought it was shit.' I learnt not to be too effusive, which was difficult because I was so blown away with what I was hearing."

"We've had it in the back of our mind that we wanted to play live again", said Guthrie at the time of the album's release, "so we thought we'd make some of the pieces more like songs we could actually play live [...] We like it better than all our last records. That's why we continue to make more–because if we made the perfect record we'd sit back and say, 'We can't do any better than that'. We think all our other ones are fucking crap. I'm slightly proud of a couple of tracks on a couple of them, but essentially I'm really embarrassed about what we've done in the past".

The band desired a visual representation that would "[capture] the ethereal", according to Guthrie. Paul West, of the design studio Form, previously worked with Cocteau Twins on the cover for Blue Bell Knoll. West recruited photographer Andy Rumball, and the pair experimented with various materials in order to generate a "textural and otherworldly" effect. The final artwork is a long exposure of Christmas tree lights that were flicked against a color backdrop, with its typography produced by hand on an acetate overlay. Much of the original artwork was later destroyed in a flood.

The final date of the Heaven or Las Vegas tour 1990 was played in Las Vegas at the Bagdad theatre at Aladdin Hotel and Casino.

Walter Benjamin was fascinated by the phantasmagoria and used it as a term to describe the experience of the Arcades in Paris. In his essays, he associated phantasmagoria with commodity culture and its experience of material and intellectual products. In this way, Benjamin expanded upon Marx's statement on the phantasmagorical powers of the commodity.

” If there is one place where colours are allowed to clash, it would be the Passage; a red-green comb is hardly noticed here.”

Benjamin wrote about early consumer culture in Paris in his text “Passagen” (1930). He describes the citizen as a flaneur, not as someone who is exposing him/herself, but someone who is exposed to the attractive lights in the shopping gallery. The flaneur is a person who walks through the city without a specific goal. He/She gets into an ecstacy, going from one attraction to the other. The city unrolls as a landscape to the eye of the flaneur, but at the same time, locks him in. Benjamin calls this new city environment a “Fantasmagory”, the city becomes a dreamworld where different rules apply than in reality.

In the end, the building itself becomes a sign.