In my previous post I talked about “City Signs and Lights”, about the design of a modern city landscape, attracting customers. City signs are in an ongoing competition for attention. In this post I want to focus on the interaction between the consumer (the flaneur) and the environment. I would like to shift between two cases: the architecture of The Strip in Las Vegas and the passages in Paris, in the first half of the 20th century.
The passage is a covered shopping gallery. The culture philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote about early consumer culture in Paris in his text “Passagen” (1930). He describes the citizen as a flaneur, not as someone who is exposing him/herself, but someone who is exposed to the attractive lights in the shopping gallery. The flaneur is a person who walks through the city without a specific goal. He/She gets into an ecstacy, going from one attraction to the other. The city unrolls as a landscape to the eye of the flaneur, but at the same time, locks him in. Benjamin calls this new city environment a “Fantasmagory”, the city becomes a dreamworld where different rules apply than in reality.
” If there is one place where colours are allowed to clash, it would be the Passage; a red-green comb is hardly noticed here ”
(W. Benjamin, Passagen, 1930)
I believe that Las Vegas is a great example of a modern day Fantasmagory. The city is almost entirely made out of neon signs. After the second world war, Las Vegas was growing extraordinarily fast. The consequence was a speed-up of competition along the Strip (the central road through Vegas). The actual buildings are all more or less the same: low, but a large ground level surface. This has to do with the climate and economical reasons. The outside of the building needs to stand out, both during the day and night. The result is a total mash-up of different styles, quotes, hightened symbolism, eclecticism, all in neon lights.
In the end, the building itself becomes a sign.
W. Benjamin, Passagen, 1930
R. Venturi, Learning from Las vegas, 1970
Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas, 1990
cat. no. 700.6-benj2