Thursday, February 02, 2006

Vegas and CES

It's all a matter of location, location, location

by Carla Diana

NEW YORK, December 31, 1997 -- Just days after [Image]
ringing in the New Year, etown.com staffers will
listen to some real noisemakers in Las Vegas for that
majestic trade-show tradition, the International Consumer
Electronics Show. Why Vegas? As the quintessential place
you'd love to visit but wouldn't want to live, it's got
the practical advantages of dry weather [which takes the
skin right off my face -- Ed.], swanky hotel rooms [kept
at subzero temperatures to get you into the casino --
Ed.] and nonstop entertainment [i.e. gambling and
prostitutes -- Ed.]. Beyond those, however, lies a
subtler significance that can be traced to trends in
architecture.

As a general comparison, Vegas building design started
out with the same overall layout as electronic
componentry. Structures were low and squat, and spread
out over one level for ventilation purposes, resulting in
flat geometric spaces. VCRs, DSS receivers and CD players
may house circuitry rather than blackjack tables, but the
general design is the same: flat boxes.

While original Vegas buildings kept a low profile,
graphic electric signage took center stage, with each
casino and wedding chapel illuminating a sign brighter
than the next. In the early days of the Strip, each
structure gained its identity not from the profile of the
architecture but from the glowing, boasting lights as
seen from the road, like the wild-west saloon style of
the Golden Nugget or Circus Circus. The character of the
place was communicated entirely through the facade, a
strategy similar to that used by CE designers: products
are identified not by their shape (hey, a rectangle's a
rectangle) but by an up-front, glowing LED display and
the heraldry of the brand name (no matter how
meaningless) plastered across the faceplate. Vegas'
buildings are meant to be viewed as a car approaches from
the highway, and CE componentry is viewed en route from
the fridge to the couch.

Just as consumer electronics have begun to evolve into
new designs including towers and more sculptural handheld
shapes, so too has a new Vegas architectural shtick
emerged. The latest hotels wouldn't dare opening up shop
without signature forms that communicate a theme, like
the colossal MGM lion, the Luxor's pyramid, and the
skyline at New York New York. While it's still
ostentatious, the use of overall form as an architectural
style (where the building functions as a giant "statue")
has come a long way since the fast food stand shaped like
a giant hot dog.

Economically, both Vegas and the CE industry have grown
at breakneck speeds. In "Learning form Las Vegas," the
architect's textbook on the phenomenon of urban sprawl,
author Robert Venturi states that "architectural
evolution that would have taken decades in other cities
has taken place in just years." Any visitor to the city
in the last 10 years has witnessed constant
reconstruction activity -- Vegas version 3.1 replacing
3.0 in a heartbeat.

The real poetic beauty of hosting a CE show in Vegas is
that it's the best place for fast-paced escapism. (No
wonder it was Albert Brooks' ill-fated first stop to the
wild life in the comedy "Lost in America"). As Disneyland
for grownups, it's got commodified illusions-R-us from
dancing showgirls to the Mirage's volcano and, of course,
Elvis impersonators aplenty. Aren't illusions what
consumer electronics are all about? Virtual reality,
speakers that sound live, and totally immersive home
theater environments are just a sampling of how new
gadgets boast the ability to help you forget the dreary
here and now. And ultimately, every CES rolls out more
opportunities to completely lose your shirt than ever
before.

# # #

This column is an etown.com exclusive.

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