Still Learning From Las Vegas with Christopher Hawthorne
Approved for AIA CE credit – 1.5 Learning Unit
In 1972, MIT Press published a book that would permanently change America’s understanding of how cities are designed and which ones are worth careful study: Learning From Las Vegas, by Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi, and Steven Izenour. Based on research conducted as part of a Yale School of Architecture seminar in the fall of 1968, the book upended a half-century of modernist orthodoxy, arguing that “learning from the existing landscape is a way of being revolutionary for an architect.” The author of a recent New Yorker essay exploring the book on its 50th birthday, Christopher Hawthorne, will join us to reflect on the ongoing lessons of the book and the Las Vegas it celebrated.
His talk will look back at Venturi and Scott Brown’s time in Las Vegas and forward to imagine the city’s place in emerging debates over architecture and urban design, particularly in labor, adaptive reuse, and climate change.
“It would be going too far to claim that “Learning Las Vegas” was organized fundamentally as a kind of Trojan horse, sneaking anti-establishment ideas (about, for example, all the ways that modernism and its leading practitioners had reached a dead end) into the academy in the guise of mere empiricism, of diagrams and measurement. But the book’s seeming impartiality does serve to disguise its cunning. The young architects of today, who have their own designs on upheaval—even if their goals are more urgent or politically ambitious than Scott Brown and Venturi’s—could learn a thing or two from the strategy that the couple and their students perfected a half century ago, not so much storming the barricades as walking calmly and determinedly around them, flashing a camera or sketch pad as a kind of all-access pass.”