Ten days in Vegas


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.

leaning-from-las-vegas-asphaltLas Vegas: Asphalt (Learning from Las Vegas, 1972)

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.

Building for Life 12, Integrating into the neighbourhood

images-1Permeable new housing development promotes the establishment of sustainable movement patterns. In the revised and more focused national housing design standard; Building for Life 12 a significant improvement was the moving of the question “Does the scheme integrate with existing, roads, paths and surrounding development?” from the 14th to the 1st consideration for new housing development.

Achieving a design that meets this recommendation can be frustrating for developers as often the ability to make this happen rests with local authorities and existing communities. It is quite common for example for existing communities to resist the use of footpaths by new development so that the same route has to be (less well) duplicated. Frequently new developments are created as giant cul de sacs – internally well connected but detached from their surroundings and unlikely to encourage sustainable patters of movement. In effect adding traffic to existing networks that local communities will also have sought to resist.

That this lack of connectivity is something quite common to current patterns of development was borne out by the transport planner Phil Jones in his review for the Urban Design Group of how well the design principles of Manual for Streets 2 are being embedded in current practice – http://www.urbannous.org.uk/manual-for-streets.htm – His view is slowly especially at the macro or strategic scale of development. Creating good connectivity requires a clear strategic vision about the integration of new homes from the local authority so that stakeholders and neighboring landowners can be encouraged to work together to link developments.


Image – A Plethora of Poundburys, from Streets and Patterns by Stephen Marshall, Taylor and Francis, 2004