The architectural excesses of the Las Vegas Strip have been with us for more than a half century, becoming more interestingly over-the-top as each decade passes and the latest new hotel/casinos open. Cultural awareness and broader discussion of the particular architectural tricks and tendencies of the Strip were certainly heightened by the publication in 1972 and 1977 of the 'Learning from Las Vegas' analytical manifesto of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour. In that treatise, the authors sorted structures into either 'decorated sheds' — meaning utilitarian boxes that had been overlain with some appealing visual frippery — or 'ducks' — meaning structures that had taken on such dominating form and imagery (say, perhaps, of a duck, or a Native brave, or a rocket ship, or whatever) that they effectively were no longer anything but the symbolic thing they resembled. If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck — even if it's actually a hot dog stand!
Well, the Las Vegas Strip is today peppered with a great many ducks. The Paris Hotel & Casino alone sports three different and distinct ducks: a replica of the namesake city’s Eiffel Tower, a vehicular entry portal styled after the Arc de Triomphe, and a sign/sculpture meant to mimic a successful hot air balloon of the Montgolfier Brothers. The facility’s Grand Opening in 1999 was cued by its light switrches being thrown by famed French actress Catherine Deneuve.
A short walk north of Paris lies a slice of Italy, represented by The Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino. At The Venetian’s entrance from Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) lie its several duck elements: a campanile modeled after that of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, a façade that mimics the famed Doge’s Palace, and a bridge (traversed by incoming gamblers and guests upon a humped-back speedwalk) recreating the Rialto Bridge.
Elsewhere along the Strip, one can enter the Lake Como district of Italy (at Bellagio), Ancient Egypt (at Luxor), Manhattan (at New York New York), Arthurian England (at Excalibur), the Big Top (at Circus Circus), a luxe theater lobby of years past (at MGM Grand), and a Hawaiian/Southeast Asian paradise (at Mandalay Bay). There are even portions of the North-African/Middle-Eastern-themed Desert Passage of the former Aladdin Casino remaining along the many retail corridors of Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops.
The single central principle expressed by all of the Strip’s architecture — and, in fact, by all of the societal appeal of the Las Vegas Strip on all its many levels — is the iconography of excess. Why settle for one tourist destination, when you can enjoy 5 or 7 or 10, all within walking (or cab or monorail or limo) distance of one another? Why have just a meal, when a sprawling buffet presents itself? Why settle for a photo with the family, when Buzz and Woody and SpongeBob and Angels and the Bronze Cowboy can join in? Why enjoy a simple cocktail, when a 36” tall tube of sinuous glass beckons with a multi-colored multi-liquored concoction? Why limit yourself to the $10 blackjack table in a town that offers single chips valued up to $100,000 each? If standing water or a spray might offer respite from the desert climate, how about a 9-acre lagoon with fountains that rocket to nearly 500 feet in the air, as at Bellagio? If you’d welcome a dip in the swim, how about MGM Grand’s more than 6 acres of pools, rivers and waterfalls?
So, is such excess sustainable?
Over the long term, it appears that the Las Vegas Strip is here to stay. Each year, roughly 40 million visitors are drawn to the Las Vegas metropolitan area of less than 2 million residents. Of the approximately 7 out of 8 visitors that gamble upon their arrival, each typically leaves behind nearly $200 in gambling losses, on top of significant per-person expenses for airfare, hotel, meals, entertainment, transportation and shopping. Lax local rules regarding prostitution and drinking further insure that veritable mountains of cash enter the local economy. And, with the Strips many hotel/casinos held in multi-property clusters by several extremely large, powerful and profitable gaming companies, it is unlikely they will fade away any time soon.