the city of funny buildings


In 1965, a hotel owner named Jay Sarno began construction on a new hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and decided to set his creation apart from the competition by modelling it on a Roman palace. Caesars Palace was really no different from any other big hotel, but the Roman arches and columns stuck on its façade, not to mention the tunic-clad cocktail waitresses inside, were such a hit that the place spawned a generation of imitations, each aiming to outdo the last in eye-popping extravagance. Las Vegas became the world’s largest theme park, with hotels intended to make you feel that you are in Venice, or Paris, or Egypt, or New York, or Bellagio, or on a pirate’s island, or among King Arthur and his knights. Or—given that these weird simulacra have become famous in their own right—that you are, quite simply, in Vegas. Sarno’s palace was vulgar and crude, but his achievement is one that even the most accomplished architects can only envy: he defined a city’s style. But it’s been clear for a while that Las Vegas has been running out of themes. The trouble is that its effects rely entirely on dazzlement, an over-the-top gigantism that gets old fast. By this point, you could do a hotel that reproduced Angkor Wat or the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and no one would raise an eyebrow. And as Las Vegas has grown—until the recession, its expansion had helped make Nevada the fastest-growing state in the nation—the city has started to feel a little uncomfortable about its reputation as a place where developers spend billions of dollars on funny buildings.

more from Paul Goldberger at The New Yorker here.