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The Architecture of Persuasion
The cloverleaf and airport communicate with moving crowds
in cars or on foot, for efficiency and safety. But words and symbols may be
used in space for commercial persuasion. The Middle Eastern bazaar contains no
signs, the strip is virtually all signs. In the
bazaar, communication works through proximity. Along its narrow aisles buyers
feel and smell the merchandise, and explicit oral persuasion is applied by the
merchant. In the narrow streets of the medieval town, although signs occur,
persuasion is mainly through the sight and smell of the real cakes through the
doors and windows of the bakery. On
On the commercial strip the supermarket windows contain no merchandise. There may be signs announcing the day's bargains, but they are to be read by the pedestrians approaching from the parking lot. The building itself is set back from the highway and half hidden, as is most of the urban environment, by parked cars. The vast parking lot is in front, not at the rear, since it is a symbol as well as a convenience. The building is low because air conditioning demands low spaces, and merchandising techniques discourage second floors; its architecture is neutral because it can hardly be seen from the road. Both merchandise and architecture are disconnected from the road. The big sign leaps to connect the driver to the store, and down the road the cake mixes and detergents are advertised by their national manufacturers on enormous billboards inflected toward the highway. The graphic sign in space has become the architecture of this landscape. Inside, the A&P has reverted to the bazaar except that graphic packaging has replaced the oral persuasion of the merchant. At another scale, the shopping center off the highway returns in its pedestrian mall to the medieval street.
Historical Tradition and the A&P
The A&P parking lot is a current phase in the
evolution of vast space since
The sign is more important than the architecture. This is
reflected in the proprietor's budget: the sign at the front is a vulgar extravaganza,
the building at the back, a modest necessity. The architecture is what's cheap.
Sometimes the building is the sign: the restaurant in the
shape of a hamburger is sculptural symbol and architectural shelter.
Contradiction between outside and inside was common in architecture before the
Modern Movement, particularly in urban and monumental architecture. Baroque
domes were symbols as well as spatial constructions, and they were bigger in
scale and higher outside than inside in order to dominate their urban setting
and communicate their symbolic message. The false fronts of western stores did
the same thing. They were bigger and taller than the interiors they fronted to
communicate the store's importance and to enhance the quality and unity of the
street. But false fronts are of the order and scale of
There are other parallels between
A conventional map of
One's first introduction to
System and Order on the Strip
The image of the commercial strip is chaos. The order in this landscape is not obvious. The continuous highway itself and its systems for turning are absolutely consistent. The median strip accommodates the U-turns necessary to a vehicular promenade for casinocrawlers, as well as left turns onto the local street pattern which the Strip intersects. The curbing allows frequent right turns for casinos and other commercial enterprises and eases the difficult transitions from highway to parking. The street lights function superfluously along many parts of the Strip which are incidentally but abundantly lit by signs; but their consistency of form and position and their arching shapes begin to identifY by day a continuous space of the highway, and the constant rhythm contrasts effectively with the uneven rhythms of the signs behind.
This counterpoint reinforces the contrast between two types of order on the Strip: the obvious visual order of street elements and the difficult visual order of buildings and signs. The zone of the highway is a shared order. The zone off the highway is an individual order. The elements of the highway are civic. The buildings and signs are private. In combination they embrace continuity and discontinuity, going and stopping, clarity and ambiguity, cooperation and competition, the community and rugged individualism. The system of the highway gives order to the sensitive functions of exit and entrance, as well as to the image of the Strip as a sequential whole. It also generates places for individual enterprises to grow, and controls the general direction of that growth. It allows variety and change along its sides, and accommodates the contrapuntal, competitive order of the individual enterprises.
There is an order along the sides of the highway.
Varieties of activities are juxtaposed on the Strip: service stations, minor
motels, and multimillion dollar casinos. Marriage chapels ('credit cards
accepted') converted from bungalows with added neon-lined steeples are apt
to appear anywhere toward the downtown end. Immediate proximity of related
uses, as on
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