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.