Popular modern architecture all over the world has been influenced by Las Vegas in one way or another. Whether it’s the bright neon lights, astonishing design, or eye catching signage, the evolution of popular architecture can be traced back to early Las Vegas. Before all of the flashing lights and million dollar buildings, the city of Las Vegas largely influenced the architectural planning of hot spots in the west through auto tourism.
The early history of Las Vegas’ architectural planning and influence can be traced back alongside the mass spread of the automobile after their introduction in the 1920’s.The entire city of Las Vegas was fundamentally designed around the rhythm of car transportation and culture of the times. This meant Las Vegas required new methods of architectural scale and configuration so that that early motorists would take in the depth of the city. These architectural planning methods were subsequently used in the reshaping of the Nascent Sunbelt metropolises of Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City (Al, 2017). This moment in history defines Las Vegas’ initial influence on American pop culture and architecture through growing with these cities in newly pragmatic, commercialized environments.
The phenomenal economic growth in post war America allowed for Las Vegas serve “as pristine a laboratory for urban development as the real world may ever offer” (Al, 2017). This meant that Las Vegas tested urban, social, and architectural innovations to the limit, bigger and brighter than any city before. This assumption also meant that with innovations, came flaws such as the pitfalls of Las Vegas Society. This is when not only architecture, but other forms of culture in Las Vegas became widely popularized to the world (Al, 2017). The 1960’s presented itself as an exciting, refreshing time period that viewed architecture and pop culture in fascinating new ways.
These alternative takes on architecture were aimed to reflect and convey the feelings and values of the American population. During this time period, Las Vegas was able to spearhead the movement through its various complex and outrageous forms of communication through architecture. The copious amounts of hotels, casinos, neon signs, and advertisements was a direct reflection of the culture shift at the time. The development of these new entertainment complexes and refreshingly brash architecture grew in parallel to the rise of mass production and consumer culture in America (Venturi, 1977). This allowed for the influence of Las Vegas’ architecture to continue bleeding into popular American architecture, but also every viable form of media at the time. The appeal of Las Vegas’ architecture, the grandiose buildings and casinos, was so wide that it easily merged alongside popular culture for years to come.
The continued economic prosperity in America through the 1970’s allowed for communication to reach an all time high. Advertisements could now be seen in newspapers, on televisions, screens, billboards, and various other forms. This is when advertisements in Las Vegas had become renowned for potentially being considered too dominant and overpowering. These forms of communication provoked the emergence of pop art which began in the late 1950’s (Venturi, 1977). This time period in America and Las Vegas provided pop culture with fresh new approaches to art and media expression. Artists such as Andy Worhol took advantage of this new western world bombarded in advertising and bright lights, mainly focussing on advertisements and product packages as the basis of their work (Venturi, 1977).
Las Vegas has also provided the image of itself to the world of literature through various authors, notably Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” published in 1971. Las Vegas provided writers the the perspective to view the city through their “preconceptions, describing it as everything from the dank epitome of American capitalism to a democratic space of self-invention. As this suggests, Vegas is more than a city: it is a magic mirror in which Americans have understood our nation and ourselves.”(Gragg, 2013) The appeal that Las Vegas has on writers and filmmakers when creating pop culture works is shown through visual applications, further embedding physical images of the city within pop culture.
More modern instances of Las Vegas architecture influencing popular culture include depictions of the Strip abound in popular narratives from movies such as; Oceans 11, Rain Man, Casino, 21, The Hangover I and III, television shows; Vega$, Las Vegas, CSI, and other pop culture mediums. These narratives often support the city’s dominant image of a place designed for adult entertainment within replicas of other places that span across both national boundaries and historical time periods” (Shalin, 1993). Today’s Las vegas has impacted how various pop culture hubs around the world visually portray themselves through architecture, signage and advertising. Las Vegas has pushed the envelope, in regards to the limits of innovative and audacious architecture, farther than any city ever has. Some may even say Las Vegas has gone too far with the “odd juxtaposition of pharaonic Egypt, the Roman Empire, Caribbean pirates and their displaced sirens, New York City, Paris, Venice, Monte Carlo, the Emerald City, medieval castles, and grand temples” (Borer, 2016). These architectural feats have outlined what does and doesn’t work within a city’s architectural planning, allowing pop culture cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to learn from the successes and mistakes. An example of grandiose architecture similar to Las Vegas is the chinese theatre in Los Angeles. This strategy used by many pop culture cities implies the use of images, styles, and architecture from past, present and future to create extraordinary effects. (Ritzer, 2001)
The effect that Las Vegas has had on popular culture through its architecture is vast and undeniably noticeable. From the conception of the first casino to the placement of the most modern advertisement, Las Vegas’ iconic imagery and structures have found their way into popular culture through books, films, journalism, television, and every other media possible. Las Vegas has been able to impact the world of popular architecture; reflected in signage, billboards, and advertisements. Whether the grandiose methods of architectural planning are considered good or bad, the impact can be seen in many of the cultural hubs of the world, including Los Angeles, New York, and any of the major advertising cities. Cities of bright lights and large scale advertising have Las Vegas to thank for pushing the boundaries on popular architecture.
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