Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream
266 pp., 8 x 10 in, 63 color illus., 19 b&w illus.
- Published: March 22, 2022
- Published: March 3, 2017
- Published: March 10, 2017
The transformations of the Strip—from the fake Wild West to neon signs twenty stories high to “starchitecture”—and how they mirror America itself.
The Las Vegas Strip has impersonated the Wild West, with saloon doors and wagon wheels; it has decked itself out in midcentury modern sleekness. It has illuminated itself with twenty-story-high neon signs, then junked them. After that came Disney-like theme parks featuring castles and pirates, followed by replicas of Venetian canals, New York skyscrapers, and the Eiffel Tower. (It might be noted that forty-two million people visited Las Vegas in 2015—ten million more than visited the real Paris.) More recently, the Strip decided to get classy, with casinos designed by famous architects and zillion-dollar collections of art. Las Vegas became the “implosion capital of the world” as developers, driven by competition, got rid of the old to make way for the new—offering a non-metaphorical definition of “creative destruction.” In The Strip, Stefan Al examines the many transformations of the Las Vegas Strip, arguing that they mirror transformations in America itself. The Strip is not, as popularly supposed, a display of architectural freaks but representative of architectural trends and a record of social, cultural, and economic change.
Al tells two parallel stories. He describes the feverish competition of Las Vegas developers to build the snazziest, most tourist-grabbing casinos and resorts—with a cast of characters including the mobster Bugsy Siegel, the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, and the would-be political kingmaker Sheldon Adelson. And he views the Strip in a larger social context, showing that it has not only reflected trends but also magnified them and sometimes even initiated them. Generously illustrated with stunning color images throughout, The Strip traces the many metamorphoses of a city that offers a vivid projection of the American dream.
The Strip takes a high-speed transect down one of the world's most important streets as it evolved from a cowpath to the Las Vegas Strip, a tour which yields essential insights into larger American social dynamics.
William L. Fox, Director, Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art
Finally, the book that explains Las Vegas without reducing it to a caricature. Nearly 45 years after Learning from Las Vegas, Stefan Al brings the history of this iconic American landscape up to date.
Margaret Crawford, Professor of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley
To understand America, the cultural critic Neil Postman said in 1985, we have only to look to Las Vegas. This rich, lively historical account of the city's experiments with architectural form show how Las Vegas—sometimes marvelous, sometimes dystopic, always shape shifting—has long served as a model for urban design and remains one today as casino capitalism continues its global march.
Natasha Dow Schüll, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University; author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
Stefan Al's The Strip is a fascinating examination of the social, cultural, political, and ethical currents shaping the evolution of Las Vegas, from its origins as a lonesome desert railroad outpost into the gambling and entertainment mecca that it is today. Al presents the city in all its complexity—brimming with extravagance, immorality, ambition, corruption, luck, and loss—providing the reader with an enlightening look into the history of Las Vegas as a cultural icon, and its phenomenal manifestation as a symbolic reflection of American culture.
Thom Mayne, FAIA, Distinguished Professor, Architecture and Urban Design, University of California, Los Angeles; Design Director, Morphosis
Stefan Al joins such astutely fascinated European Robinson Crusoes as Jean Baudrillard and Reyner Banham, washed ashore on the sands (and in this case The Sands) of American hyperreality. Al sees Vegas not simply as metaphor for what animates and ails us, nor as occasion for learned analytic theatrics (as if the parking lot of Caesars Palace really were aswim with chariots). His is a wonderfully observed account of the architectural development of the Strip at the singular, mesmerizing convergence of postwar car culture, mafia power, A-bomb blasts, suburbanism, libertinism, mass consumption, TV, LSD, and unself-conscious, hyperbolic kitsch—and its discontents. The Strip is a definitive account of their surreal spawn along an axis at once emblematic and truly weird.
Michael Sorkin, Distinguished Professor of Architecture, City College of New York; Principal, Michael Sorkin Studio; President, Terreform
Al's Las Vegas is a story of the American national identity, and once you've bought in, this compulsive read won't lose you a dime.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)