ten days in Las Vegas

A research project that led to new ways of thinking about design.

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Nolli’s Map of Rome – Learning from Las Vegas 1972.

Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D., Izenour, S. 1972) is an example of a research project that led to new ways of thinking about design. In 1968 the researchers and a group of students spent ten days in Las Vegas with free board and lodging at the Stardust Hotel. Having spent three weeks in the library they carried out observational research recording the characteristics of the town. The surveys were designed to explore the relationship between; movement, iconography and public space in the car orientated landscape of the Las Vegas strip. Each element was recorded as layer of a map recording the disposition of: undeveloped land, asphalt, autos, buildings, ceremonial space and finally ‘Nolli’s Las Vegas’ which brought the layers ‘asphalt’ and ‘ceremonial spaces’ together to show how the commercial strip was structured as a series of public places.

Since then designers routinely use layers to observe and analyse the key features of a site, adapting and extending this set of layers to describe a design proposal. Some layers record a general background understanding of the site but some like the layers in Learning from Las Vegas are much more specific  about the particular drive of the project or the specific character of a place.

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prize book: young – old, urban utopias of an aging society

The Urban Design Group (UDG) Book Prize for 2016 goes to a book that offers a celebratory framing of the third age; ‘a generation embarking on a new bodily experience’. I have been a judge for this award for the last five years a process that is as rewarding as it is elongated. Judging begins in late summer when two books arrive to be reviewed, then when all four judges have published reviews we circulate the books and debate a shortlist for the prize that is announced in Spring at the UDG annual award ceremony in London.

We chose Young – Old, Urban Utopias in an Aging Society by Deane Simpson (published by Lars Muller) as it stood out for its important subject matter, for its coherence and ambition and elegant and intelligent design. The book lays out an expansive and at times entertaining survey of purpose built retirement communities in North America, Europe and Japan since the 1950’s. It interrogates the particular qualities of these places in carefully designed drawings and photographs, developing a commentary and critique of a series of ‘active adult’ communities including nomadic RV communities in North America.

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Young – Old reveals a way of thinking about neigbourhoods that is pleasantly liberated from usual norms. Simpson shows how retirement communities evidence new forms of urbanity that are emerging in relation to a new phase of life – forms that engage in utopian aspirations. Setting aside moral judgements as Venturi and Scott Brown did in their study Learning form Las Vegas (1972) he allows these new forms to be revealed and offered as more general prompt to innovation.

This is an abridged version of a review published in the Urban Design Group Journal, No 137, Winter 2016.

Young – Old, Urban Utopias in an Aging Society by Deane Simpson

published by Lars Muller, 2016: https://www.lars-mueller-publishers.com/young-old

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