Types and Sets

I’m revisiting one of my favorite architecture books as I find myself thinking frequently about possible typologies of suburban landscapes.  The book is Learning From Las Vegas (1977), by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour.  The premise of the book is that—at least in 1977—Las Vegas tended to confound inherited forms of the built environment, both in how buildings are designed and in how they live together in an urban context. 

The authors and their team of student researchers are interested in (and believe in) an underlying structure for cities, and show how Las Vegas is a new way to make a city.  The claims often overreach, but they are not what makes the book remarkable.  Mixed with the prose is a series of analytical-visual typologies that break down—using photographs, maps, and sketches—the constituent parts of the city.  Reminiscent here is Christopher Alexander et al.’s urban typology A Pattern Language, published in the same year. 

Casinos on the Las Vegas strip, with typologies of “front,” “side,” “parts,” “entrance,” and “parking.” Learning From Las Vegas, 1977.

I am attracted to this visual-descriptive way of picking apart the urban environment because it is a method for sense-making.  It helps answer the question “what is this place?”  The typology may appear cold and distanced at first, but given that it bears the mark of its maker, there is lots of room for playful and critical generation of types.