I AM A MONUMENT
Learning from Las Vegas, originally published by the MIT Press in 1972, was one of the most influential and controversial architectural books of its era. Thirty-five years later, it remains a perennial bestseller and a definitive theoretical text. Its authors—architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour—famously used the Las Vegas Strip to argue the virtues of the "ordinary and ugly" above the "heroic and original" qualities of architectural modernism. Learning from Las Vegas not only moved architecture to the center of cultural debates, it changed our ideas about what architecture was and could be.
In this provocative rereading of an iconic text, Aron Vinegar argues that Learning from Las Vegas is not only of historical interest but of absolute relevance to current critical debates in architectural and visual culture. Vinegar argues that to read Learning from Las Vegas only as an exemplary postmodernist text—to understand it, for example, as a call for pastiche or as ironic provocation—is to underestimate its deeper critical and ethical meaning, and to miss the underlying dialectic between skepticism and the ordinary, expression and the deadpan, that runs through the text.
Vinegar's close attention to the graphic design of Learning from Las Vegas, and his fresh interpretations of now canonical images from the book such as the Duck, the Decorated Shed, and the "recommendation for a monument," make his book unique. Perhaps most revealing is his close analysis of the differences between the first 1972 edition, designed for the MIT Press by Muriel Cooper, and the "revised" edition of 1977, which was radically stripped down and largely redesigned by Denise Scott Brown. The dialogue between the two editions continues with this book, where for the first time the two versions of Learning from Las Vegas are read comparatively.
About the Author
Aron Vinegar is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art at Ohio State University.
"Learning from Las Vegas still manages to provoke strong reactions and the sort of glib dismissal that is one way of warding off the challenge of a truly radical argument. Vinegar's wide-ranging discussion refreshes and reopens a set of questions that have only grown more pressing in recent years, giving their original formulation the scholarly and critical attention they clearly deserve."
Alan Plattus, Professor of Architecture, Yale University
"Aron Vinegar literally reopens the book on architectural postmodernism. By reading Learning from Las Vegas as philosophy, not irony, Vinegar reaches out from American architecture in the 1970s to address architectural theory at large. It is a beguiling intervention."
Simon Sadler, Professor of Architectural and Urban History, University of California, Davis
"Aron Vinegar's fresh and penetrating reading of Learning from Las Vegas brings an architectural classic into confrontation with the most sophisticated contemporary theory. Vinegar ranges widely through philosophy, linguistics, psychology, contemporary art history, urban theory, and even book arts to reveal the depths of thought and 'unthought' that formed Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour's concisely monumental essay."
Dell Upton, Department of Art History, UCLA