Disney Goes Pop (Robert Venturi)

The authors of Learning from Las Vegas—early proponents of the bold and the garish—take a look at King Mickey’s latest resort.

“Throughout the history of architecture and urbanism, iconography always dominated the scene, instructing and persuading us.”

We love it, the idea of it and the skill with which it has been designed. This is not surprising since it represents what we have been acknowledging for a long time: the messy vitality of the public sector and the power of symbolic form. We were among the first highfalutin architects to acknowledge Disneyland as valid and significant in our writing and teaching, and in our designs for Disney in Orlando and Paris. But alas, if you originate an idea, you often aren’t the one to realize it.

We see the Pop Century Resort as a third evolution of Pop Urbanism—beyond that engaging the symbolic-surface makeup of the first Las Vegas, evolving from the Strip; beyond that engaging the scenographic formal makeup of the second Las Vegas, evolving from Disneyland. Here is a vivid urban complex that is beginning to embrace symbolic content by combining surface and form, graphic signage, and sculptural symbolism—both the “decorated shed” and the “duck” (i.e., the loft whose surfaces are ornamented with signs, and the building as sculptural symbol).

What is to come next? The urban complex that is a city rather than a resort—a vivid multifaceted place that pragmatically juxtaposes decorated sheds and ducks through signage and sculpture, civic and commercial content—all in the service of enhanced communication, the vital community-building tool of our multicultural era. This is what the Las Vegases and Pop Century Resorts are leading up to and what the Tokyo of today has essentially achieved.

But let us remember that throughout the history of architecture and urbanism, iconography has always dominated the scene, instructing and persuading us with its religious and civic content in ways no different from today’s vigorous (and despised) commercial iconography. Let us acknowledge the validity of those signs as a flourishing element within that vital, generic American scene, as well as within the great tradition of architecture and urbanism! Let us today transfer the murals from the inside to the outside of the buildings! Let us not be limited by the intimidations of taste and a Modernist revival that promotes decadent/dramatique abstract expressionism and industrial rocaille for the postindustrial age. Let us be stimulated by the vigor of iconography appropriate for our information/electronic age!

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