A Signed Copy
Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour: LEARNING FROM LAS VEGAS. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1972. First Edition. Folio. Charcoal cloth stamped in gold. Tipped-in 4-Color halftone photograph. Glassine dust jacket printed in black and red. xviii, 189 pp. Illustrated with photographs, drawings, plans and ephemera. Elaborate graphic design throughout by Muriel Cooper. SIGNED by Robert Venturi on front free endpaper. Cover cloth lightly marked with expected wear to spine crown and heel and gently bumped edges. Textblock lightly thumbed with some very faint spotting early and late. The rare glassine jacket is typically browned to edges and spine, with spine crown fully chipped to the depth of one-and-a-half inches and partially chipped to the depth of two-and-a-half inches. The rear corners are also lightly chipped. The jacket had been folded and stored inside the book with a resultant clean and subtle crease line neatly bisecting all panels. A very good [signed] copy in a good or better example of the rare publishers glassine dust jacket.
10.5 by 14 hardcover book with 205 pages elaborately designed by Muriel Cooper, at the time design director of the MIT Press -- a magnificent specimen of book design. According to Ellen Lupton: "The first edition of this world-changing manifesto was designed by Muriel Cooper. Alas, the original design finds little expression in the current editions, but the text remains a profound celebration of surface. This is the New Testament of design theory."
From the vsba website: "Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and the commercial vernacular and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments."
LEARNING FROM LAS VEGAS consists of three sections:
"Their insight and analysis, reasoned back through the history of style and symbolism and forward to the recognition of a new kind of building that responds directly to speed, mobility, the superhighway and changing life styles, is the kind of art history and theory that is rarely produced. The rapid evolution of modern architecture from Le Corbusier to Brazil to Miami to the roadside motel in a brief 40-year span, with all the behavioral esthetics involved, is something neither architect nor historian has deigned to notice . . . . " -- Ada Louise Huxtable [The New York TImes]
A controversial critic of the blithely functionalist and symbolically vacuous architecture of corporate modernism during the 1950s, Venturi has been considered a counterrevolutionary. He published his "gentle manifesto," Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" in 1966, described in the introduction by Vincent Scully to be "probably the most important writing on the making of architecture since Le Corbusier's 'Vers Une Architecture,' of 1923." Derived from course lectures at the University of Pennsylvania, Venturi received a grant from the Graham Foundation in 1965 to aid in its completion. The book demonstrated, through countless examples, an approach to understanding architectural composition and complexity, and the resulting richness and interest. Drawing from both vernacular and high-style sources, Venturi introduced new lessons from the buildings of architects both familiar (Michelangelo, Alvar Aalto) and then forgotten (Frank Furness, Edwin Lutyens). He made a case for "the difficult whole" rather than the diagrammatic forms popular at the time, and included examples -- both built and unrealized -- of his own work to demonstrate the possible application of the techniques illustrated within. The book has been translated and published in 18 languages.
Immediately hailed as a theorist and designer with radical ideas, Venturi went to teach a series of studios at the Yale School of Architecture in the mid-1960s. The most famous of these was a studio in 1968 in which Venturi and Scott Brown, together with Steven Izenour, led a team of students to document and analyze the Las Vegas Strip, perhaps the least likely subject for a serious research project imaginable. In 1972, Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour published the folio, A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas later revised in 1977 as Learning from Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form using the student work as a foil for new theory. This second manifesto was an even more stinging rebuke to orthodox modernism and elite architectural tastes. The book coined the terms "Duck" and "Decorated Shed"-- descriptions of the two predominant ways of embodying iconography in buildings. The work of Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown adopted the latter strategy, producing formally simple "decorated sheds" with rich, complex and often shocking ornamental flourishes. Though he and his wife co-authored several additional books at the end of the century, these two have proved most influential.
From Muriel Cooper's AIGA biography: After several years gestating a text, authors tend to have their own view of what their book should look like, which can lead to some interesting battles of wits. "I had that experience in spades with Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi," Cooper recalled, speaking of the original edition of Learning From Las Vegas, published by MIT Press in 1972. Cooper even proposed a bubble-wrap cover, in homage to Las Vegas's glitz -- a suggestion the authors firmly rejected. "What they wanted most was a Duck, not a Decorated Shed. I gave them a Duck," Cooper went on, referring to the dichotomy between two types of symbolic architecture posited in the book, the former being a literal representation of its function. "I thought: 'Boy, this is wonderful material. I'm not gonna let them screw it.' Hah! You should have seen it! Well, they hated it! I loved it." -- Janet Abrams
And William Drenttel asked: "Why did its authors hate the design of this book so much?
"In 1999, I wrote a piece for Lingua Franca mentioning SMLXL (Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau) in which I naively suggested that, "Not since Robert Venturi's [et al] Learning from Las Vegas has the design of a book so eloquently expressed the point of view of its authors." Of course, I was speaking of the work of Muriel Cooper, the MIT designer.
"Roger Conover, the architecture editor at MIT Press wrote me a long letter telling the true story. "Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown [and Steven Izenour] found her design so offensive and anathematical to their ideas that they threatened to withdraw publication. There was a knock-down fight between Muriel and Denise, both of them refusing to compromise. The deal we made with them was to go ahead with the cloth edition as Muriel had designed it, and then let them design the second edition -- the smaller book which is still in print and which bears very little comparison to the original edition with the glassine wrappers -- which in Muriel's view DID reflect the ideas of the authors. But in the author's eyes did not. Perhaps because they could not see as well as Muriel [sic] could the monument that they were in fact building even as they of spoke of anti-monumentality."
"Thirty years after its original publication, Visible Language has created a special issue titled, "Instruction and Provocation, Or Relearning from Las Vegas." Among its (very academic) essays is this same story, retold by Michael Golec. Here, he casts a different net: an articulation of the "dynamic (or subjective)" in the 1972 edition by Muriel Cooper versus the "deadpan (and objective)" in the 1977 revised edition by Denise Scott-Brown. It took five years, but the authors got their way: a cheaper, more traditional edition that became a classic in classrooms. But it's also a less complex, less rich rendition of this seminal text. Ironically, the authors acted fearfully in the face of the very chaos that made their visual documentation so compelling.
"An early example of the designer as auteur, this piece of design history is all about a book few have actually seen. Learning from Las Vegas (1972) is, after all, now a $3500 rare book. Meanwhile, the author's 1977 version is available for $13.27 as a cheap paperback.
"There is further history here, as Muriel Cooper, who died in 1994, can be read both backwards and forwards. Forwards, she became the director of the Visible Language Workshop at the MIT Media Lab . . . . Her work with dynamic typography in three-dimensional space was the beginning of her impact on interactive design, and a decade later, her influence is still evident . . .
"Her amazing interpretation of Learning from Las Vegas did not come out of the blue: even in 1964, she was exploring new forms of information design in her role as design director of MIT Press. Michael Golec smartly cites the example of The View from the Road, an important and visual study of highways in the American landscape. This book not only foreshadows her typographically complex and cinematic approach to the Las Vegas project, but it obviously is the source of inspiration for approaches later adopted by Richard Saul Wurman.
"Learning from Las Vegas, as designed by Muriel Cooper, was a deeply layered experience befitting the underlying argument of this text. Whatever we think of postmodernism today, this book was a fundamentally radical design in 1972 -- one that quite literally upset the apple cart of Swiss modernism.
"Thirty years later, it still takes my breath away." Me too.
out of stock