midreview thesis brief

INTENT:  This thesis seeks to engage the question of architect as agent of social change by interrogating architecture’s ability to capture public attention in a present moment in order to facilitate new awareness and interactions.  Given the changing relationship of human subjects to physical space in the 21st century, I hold that contemporary and future architecture must employ new strategies for establishing common ground and forging connections if it is to resonate with and to empower public citizens.


“We live inside a set of relations…”[1]

The numerous dialectic relationships in and amongst which architecture has been placed over the past decades created a Western disciplinary dependency upon binary definitions. Now academia and practitioners perpetually claim that architecture must occupy a realm “in-between,” operating at the threshold or intersection of multiple disciplines at various scales, ideologically positioning design more as “ecology” than merely the practice of building.  However, while compelling, this re-conceptualization often leaves the field in ambiguous territory, failing to characterize a clear role for architecture in society.  We must clearly define the specific means by which architecture can operate relationally—that is, as a synthetic manifestation of the interactive forces, elements, and contingencies that constitute contemporary public life, thus creating an identifiable common ground, an environment of potentials, to which diverse people connect.


“…there are no demonstrations in Disneyland.”[2]

Relations, subjectivity, and ownership in the context of constructing urban identities become difficult questions when faced with the increasingly ubiquitous, even disappearing, physical spaces resulting from spreading globalization and eclipsed by information technologies.  Specifically, in order to understand contemporary relationships between people, objects, and environments, we must examine notions of “place” as well as “anti-relational” public space: that of escape. Our escapist culture of consumption, in which image dominates experience and architecture is often relegated to an “image-byte,” operates using precise tools and well-honed strategies of manipulation.  Through analysis of these we can better understand contemporary conditions of disengagement, cohabitation without meaningful exchange, a runaway reality.


“There is the possibility to redefine the meaning of the city as a site of confrontation and thus of coexistence.”[3]

Understanding the stakes for creating meaningful architecture is particularly vital in addressing current trends of “urbanization.”  In cities across America looking to create a new “urban character,” architects must inform design so that, rather than reinforcing the anonymity offered by appropriated images of life, spaces will allow inhabitants to connect, to take collective ownership, and to engage in social critique.  The most extreme example is Las Vegas, the embodiment of American escapist culture yet a city seeking a new urban center.  The challenge is to design a dynamic, multivalent place that relates to the greater city and its various users—one that takes advantage of but escapes the singular pervasive image of “Las Vegas.”

PROJECT:  Las Vegas is not lacking for image but lacking for a synthetic sense of connection across the city as a whole.  The city is planning to develop an “urban center,” yet current proposals seem to offer little in terms of relating to more complex contingencies of the city.  Beyond creating another escapist paradise, I propose to develop a strategy for designing a common civic space that appropriates a variety of tools to encourage awareness through connection to intrinsic and external conditions of place.

SITE:  The project will be positioned to operate in the “in-between” zone of an unresolved but potentially urban condition.  The threshold between visitor destination and residential city provides fertile ground for intensifying relationships, and as such the site may be located either (1) along the ambiguously industrial/infrastructural strip to the West of Las Vegas Blvd, or (2) the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd with “downtown.”  Either location calls for an overall plan as well as an architecture that will synthesize contingencies of context, scale, and user.

PROGRAM:  The research implies a possibility of the design of space that operates contingently, upon existing and possible relationships within and outside of itself, as well as of space that offers freedom through disconnectedness.  Given these two different typologies of space—for now, the “relational” and the “runaway”—the qualities, function, and subjective effects of each kind of space can be used in the formation of a new typology—recasting the global presence of the greater Las Vegas communities into a localized urban center. 

One such possibility is that of a “cultural laboratory,” reversing the typical format of public space (uniquely-identifiable program inserted within a larger, boundless, generally-identifiable program) by inserting pockets of commercial/play/escape space into larger library/museum/educational spaces.

QUESTIONS for moving forward: 

-        How are “collective” identities formed in Las Vegas?  How are the various users defined, segregated, or intermixed?  What are the moments of threshold between the various users and space-types?

-        What constitutes a meaningful encounter between them?  How can one best use design here to create and transition between poignant thresholds, drawing attention, creating awareness, conversation, interaction?

-        What does this mean for making a common ground—enabling connection, ownership, empowerment?

[1] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” (1967), 23.

[2] Michael Sorkin, “Introduction,” Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), xv.

[3] Pier Vittorio Aureli.  “Toward the Archipelago: Defining the Political and the Formal in Architecture,” Log 11 (Winter 2008), 119.

-- midreview 12 nov

Taking a new urban attitude that responds to the needs of multiple realities.  Critique of the reductive; problem with the singular.  There is no "right one" among the multiple identities in the city.  Instead proposing simultaneity--setting up systems of growth for plural identities.

Choose a projective mode--the attitude, and hierarchy of arguments, will be the point of clarity.

Looking at how the city has been thought, socially and technically.

The mediated image is boundless, but the thing mediated must be bounded.  Purchasing only intensifies the community exchange.  Can the image be another reappropriation...reappropriate what was already appropriated (existing "urbanism").

Transcalar--growing from a tabula rasa?  How important is "bracketing?"

New ways of understanding the center through polycentric growth.  New ways of understanding identity through classification systems--necessary to create identity, yet not closed.


“We live inside a set of relations…”    

--Michel Foucault.  "Of Other Spaces."

"...there are no demonstrations in Disneyland."    

--Michael Sorkin.  "Introduction: Variations on a Theme Park."

“Returning from a trip, I hear the question, ‘Do you have photographs?’ far more often than ‘Do you have stories or observations?’”    

--Mitchell Scwarzer. "Architecture and Mass Tourism" in Architourism.

“These undigested, unedited narratives fuel a queasy sense of ourselves as liminal creatures with no boundaries, while conversely promoting privatized anxieties about increased isolation and personal insignificance in the urban spaces we inhabit."    

--Alan Marcus and Dietrich Neumann.  Visualizing the City.

“There is the possibility to redefine the meaning of the city as a site of confrontation and thus of coexistence.”    

--Pier Vittorio Aureli.  "Toward the Archipelago: Defining the Political and the Formal in Architecture" in Log 11.

3 Speculation: runaway program

This thesis deals with the question of subjectivity, connection, and ownership in the context of constructing urban identities.  Specifically, I am looking at the construction of “urban center” in Las Vegas, a city that takes American consumer culture to its utmost extreme, a city not lacking for image but lacking for a synthetic sense of connection across the city as a whole. 

For this exercise, I would like to experiment with program, testing different combinations of the following general categories of space (these terms have yet to be fully defined and may change).  Can the advantages and characteristics of one be used to leverage the other?

- Contingent (Relational) -

These are spaces that make connections to the “contingencies” of a particular condition—to all of the various aspects that make a particular environment specific.  Not simply contextual, which might imply simply copying or mimicking existing conditions, these spaces reveal relationships between conditions of the environment, built form, and those that use it.

While these spaces might be based in relativity, they offer a rootedness to their particular condition.  They utilize physicality and bodily sense as well as mental association to draw connections and make new awareness.

The subject then becomes more conscious of the self as well as the communities to which he or she is tied.  Each person can feel a sense of belonging and ownership over the space, establishing a continuity between person and community and environment that may be empowering.

- Runaway -

These are spaces of escape—the market-driven spaces of play that are prevalent throughout American cities and reach new extremes of play in Las Vegas.  They might be described as non-relational, disconnected from any exterior conditions and infinite, offering no physical, temporal, or historical boundaries.  Rather than having some unique identity in and of themselves, identity is defined by the players in the space.

These spaces operate according to the market, driven by subtle consumer changes that are meant to be representative of all users.  They are dominated by image and visual reception.  Because these spaces dissociate man from “architecture,” instead orienting him according to commodities, these spaces rely upon psychological strategies as much as the phenomenological strategies of suppressing environmental specificities.

Thus the subject is cast in a predetermined role, one that is temporary, acknowledged as fake, and as such liberating.  The subject has the freedom of both disconnection from the “real” world and of anonymity; he or she is not responsible or accountable for his or her actions or professed beliefs in these spaces.  No one takes ownership over these spaces; therefore they are orphans or runaways.

All of the following speculate on some combination of “contingent” and “runaway” spaces—how one might inform and enable the other in order to recast the presence of the greater Las Vegas communities in an urban center.  (In any case, I imagine my project to be one at an architectural scale placed within a larger urban scheme.)


Civic center: bus stop, formal and informal performance space, commercial/play space

This at first could be envisioned as a typical downtown space, satisfying the need for a transportation hub and using it to activate performance space and commercial space, which could also draw tourists. Pushing beyond creating simply another potentially dead or segregated (by user: different communities, tourists, etc.) civic space, I could see the commercial space acting as a gateway to the various civic spaces, serving to mix communities and de-stratify, thus creating a center that truly speaks to Las Vegas as a whole.


Housing: mixed apartments and condos marketed toward different communities of Las Vegas 

Currently, luxury condo towers and affordable housing occupy completely separate spheres in the valley, one oriented wholly toward the economic center (the Strip) and they other pushed away.  The interaction of escapist housing (second- and third-homes) with apartments meant to establish community among more permanent residents could offer many opportunities for creating a more holistic vision and character of Las Vegas on one site.  The revenue from one could potentially benefit and support community-oriented spaces for the other, and integrating the two in public areas/circulation could provide new opportunities for interaction, both between inhabitants and between people and their environment, throughout the project.


Cultural laboratory: library/museum/educational spaces with pockets of commercial/play

This could be a reversal of the established mode of design throughout Las Vegas, which are pockets of specific/relational/uniquely-identified program within the larger boundless realm of runaway spaces.  Perhaps the architecture of those runaway spaces could actually inform a larger architecture of place for the community.  Reversing the typical format, for example, the play spaces could be contained as nodes within a larger field of contingent space, allowing 

(1) the runaway space to interact with, enrich, educate, and enliven the contingent space, and 

(2) the otherwise usually captive contingent space to connect to exterior conditions and modes of operation in the Las Vegas valley.

In any case, it seems appropriate to more closely analyze the qualities, function, and subjective effects of each kind of space (i.e., the powerful freedoms of play space), using those factors considered advantageous in the formation of a new typology of designed space in Las Vegas.