Revisiting Venturi and Brown's Las Vegas

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You know the phrase, "less is more." How about "less is a bore"?

For the first, thank modernist architect Mies van der Rohe, whose pared down, minimalist glass-and-steel buildings and rigid rules on form and function ushered in the age of strict modernism.

Then came the reversal from then-Yale architecture professors Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown after they visited Las Vegas in 1968. All the lowbrow commercialism, neon signs and tackiness may be "ugly and ordinary," they dared to suggest, but it's ours and part of our history and culture. So learn from it.

Their 1972 book "Learning from Las Vegas" rocked the architecture world -- and we're still learning from it, according to a new exhibition about the trailblazing profs at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery.

What was so revolutionary?

Basically, they told architects to come down from their ivory towers and look around at real-world design and the fabric of urban life and Main Street, all the cars and clutter and well, the stuff that's there.

And by so doing, "they hoped to create an architecture that reflected the conflicting needs and desires of normal people rather than one that conformed to rigid aesthetic rules," writes The New York Times' architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff.

Normal people -- hey, that's us.

Of course, architecture has moved on. Vegas, too. (After all, the city is now home to a Daniel Libeskind shopping mall.) But the simple message from Venturi and Scott Brown -- call it re-humanizing architecture -- should not be forgotten.

"What We Learned: The Yale Las Vegas Studio and the Work of Venturi Scott Brown & Associates" on view through Feb. 5.

Design Review: The Lessons of Las Vegas Still Hold Surprises [NYT]
"Learning from Las Vegas": The Book That (Still) Takes My Breath Away [Design Observer]
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