Learning From Las Vegas Book Review and Notes

Introduction

Less is a Bore! -Robert Venturi

Learning From Las Vegas (LFVLV) by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour is important for two reasons. It was a book that came, in 1972, at the end of late modernism. It proposed a radical break with the immediate past and also a reassessment and incorporation of more traditional forms of architecture back into current thinking.

It was also the book that launched the authors on that path and helped bring that thinking into the forefront of the Architectural debate for over twenty years. It helped launch the style Postmodernism and at first gave it a loose theoretical framework. So on these fronts it was amazingly successful. But that style has since fallen out of favour and ‘modernism’ has made a return.

Even today some fifty years later the book is still controversial. It can often be used as evidence on both sides of the style debate in any ongoing style war. It can at times feel more like a collection of writings rather than one single book.

There is an attitude to urban and architectural studies that covers the full gamut from high art to kitch and so it’s almost necessarily divisive. It contains iconic arguments; all buildings are either ducks or decorated sheds, and it exhaustively analyses a high-tide moment of Americana in the Las Vegas of the late 60s which doesn’t exist anymore at all. It supports the iconic but also the boring, the everyday.

If the Las Vegas strip is no longer at all the same as that in the book it dosen’t matter, we can see the muscle flex of rebellion in the book that is fascinating in itself. We can with some profit see again the arguments now they have played out in the world a little.

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1984 by George Orwell Review and Book Notes

1984 by George Orwell

1984 is one of the most Influential Books of the 20th Century. A warning to the human race in which a society founded on hatred is created.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Introduction

1984 was written mostly during 1948 by George Orwell set in a future in which a totalitarian state completely controls the lives of its subjects. The book went on the become a kind of touchstone with which to criticise totalitarian ideas on both right and left.

It’s immense influence is easy to show by reference to the number of terms it coins which have come into common use in the English language;

  • Big Brother
  • Thought Police
  • Room 101
  • Newspeak
  • Doublethink
  • thoughtcrime

Orwell probably is responsible for the the term Cold War so he is a keen observer of post war politics and in many ways predicted the shape of the second half of the 20th century he is an important figure and the book 1984 is a key reason for this.

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Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino Review and Booknotes

Introduction

The Book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is a classic modernist novel yet has had a widespread popularity that elevates it above most books of its type and has come to have an enduring influence among artists and architects.

It’s a staple for architecture students and architects alike, but why is it so popular and what’s so interesting about it? After all it may not seem on first sight to be particularly relevant to the practice of architecture as although it proports to be about cities it’s actually a magical realist book whose cities are dreamlike creations. A post modern novel with little plot and seemingly a much more poetic dreamlike quality.

But on starting to read and being drawn into the novel I think it becomes apparent why this has become such a touchstone for creative thinking about design and cities and why many architects love it so much, me included.

Before the review I will give some background and have a more detailed look at the structure of the book. This I feel is really important because of the way the book was written. The structure of the book in fact, is an integral part of the beauty of its beauty.

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A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander: Review and Notes

A fantastic Guidebook to design thinking which if you use it as an aide rather than a Bible will educate and enrich your designs. Would love to see an updated New Edition.

Introduction

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel

A Pattern Language came out in 1977 authored by Christopher Alexander with some of his students Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel.

At the time I believe Christopher Alexander was teaching Architecture at Berkley and the first group of books he wrote sprung from his teaching, research and designing there. It is one of a series of Books by Alexander but A Pattern Language is his most widely read work.

Alexanders books principally A Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language and The Nature of Order have inspired a following not just in Architecture but in other fields also principally Computer Science where his work is more influential than in Architecture.

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Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen Review and Book Notes

A classic architectural theory book, easy to read with some unique insights but with a couple of large flaws.

Introduction

Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen was a standard text in architectural schools and also for me when I began my studies more years ago than I care to remember.

It was on my reading list as a student and it was one of the first books from the course that made an impact on me. So I was interested to come back to this book after many years and reread it.

Below you will find an introduction, summary and review with a set of notes by chapter for those that want to get into the weeds with detail!

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Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

LostJapan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan Paperback by Alex Kerr

Introduction

Lost Japan is a headfirst dive into Japan and its culture. Written by an American whose heart was captured by Japan from an early age and has spent his life getting to know it. So much so that the articles he assembled this book from were originally written in Japanese and translated from the Japanese not by Kerr but by another writer (Bodhi Fishman).

I think this is an important thing to notice about the book, that this is a book about Japan meant for the Japanese themselves. Its also semi-autobiographical telling the authors life through his discovery of Japan.

I believe Lost Japan has barely ever been out of print in English since it was published. It’s insightful, opinionated and hard to put down. Moreover if you read and liked In Praise of Shadows (Chapter two nods at the book), you will find a collection of articles in the same vein but perhaps more accessible and which brings our view of Japan a little more up to date to the beginning of the 2000’s.

So I recommend this book wholeheartedly see below for a few notes and some of the key ideas running through this book.

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Cosmoform

I love a good architectural zine and Cosmoform from Phibsboro press is the latest I have. It is a short essay about the building Met Éireann by Liam McCormick in Dublin.

I found out about it by listening to the podcast What do Builidngs Do All Day? Episode 6 Cosmoform an Architectural Podcast by Emmett Scanlon in which he was talking to the creators of the Zine Cormac Murray and Eamonn Hall.

The Building

Met Éireann (photograph by William Murphy)

The Building is Irelands’ Met Office HQ. Finished in 1979 it brought together the different Meteorological departments under one roof for the first time. The most striking thing about it is that it’s a truncated pyramid. Like a modern ziggurat it sits along a leafy brick Victorian suburb in Dublin.

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Ways of Seeing by John Berger Book Notes and Review

Adapted in 1972 from a TV series this book revolutionised visual criticism and remains in print today some fifty years after it was written. It challenged conventional art criticism in a startlingly bold way and changed art criticism forever. Although it deals mostly with painting and photography some of the cultural criticism is I believe relevant to Architecture. It’s key arguments seem ever more urgent in the image hunger age of the internet. I think anyone interested in Architecture or Design or even mass media should read this book. Below is a summary and set of book notes with short review.

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Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne Review and Notes

Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne

A short Disclaimer

I studied at Newcastle University in the 90’s and Andrew Ballantyne was one of the lecturers there. He never took a project or taught a module I was in but I heard him talk and lecture many times. I remember him well, and would mark him as one of the better teachers I encountered in my education.

A Quick Overview and Introduction

What is Architecture and how can we start to build up a foundation of knowledge with which to understand Architecture better? Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne answers the first question. The second question requires a framework to be built up in order to apply an order to your understanding and this book will do that too in a clear and unfussy way.

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