Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

The crude kitsch of fast-food diners is being abandoned in a bid to communicate sustainability, community and health

Back in the ’90s, when I was a grad student at SCI-Arc, my class was sent out to the desert to meet art critic and raconteur Dave Hickey, who was then teaching at the University of Las Vegas. We met at the Hilton Sportsbook, a cavernous room where, even in the middle of the day, there wasn’t a sliver of natural light. With a backdrop of screens lighting up the gloom, Hickey shared his philosophy of Mediterranean architecture, which applied as much to the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles, as to the coast of Spain or Italy. Shadow. Darkness. Escape the sun.

Radical interiority – the concept flies in the face of California Modernism, which obsessively blurs boundaries between inside and out, and defies conclusions of Learning From Las Vegas by ignoring the exterior. To illustrate his point, perhaps, Hickey took us to The Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge, a kitschy Vegas establishment that, true to its ’70s roots, features a sunken living room, purple carpet and 24-hour breakfasts. Time doesn’t simply stop here, but congeals. If fast, fresh, and light are core tenets of contemporary food culture, the Peppermill rejects all of them.

Read More …

Robert Venturi, the Philadelphia-based architect whose buildings and writings championed “messy vitality” above the rational order of Modernism, died last week at age 93.

For generations of architects, “Learning From Las Vegas” by Venturi, his wife and longtime collaborator Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour is a seminal text, as important as Le Corbusier’s 1923 essay collection “Toward an Architecture.” Published in 1972, the bestselling book used research and analysis to dissect the most lowbrow of subjects, the Las Vegas Strip. It provided guidelines for how to understand American postwar cities and the growing suburbs that defied the traditional architectural logic of the East Coast or European cities. And importantly, especially for Angelenos, it gave architects the freedom to enjoy the symbolic, everyday roadside architecture — like Randy’s Donuts or Tail o’ the Pup — that they’d previously been taught to despise.

Read More …

Consider this a postcard from “Ugly Valley”. You know this place: it isn’t a downtrodden Catskills resort or the smoky grey Valley of Ashes from The Great Gatsby, which so forbearingly illustrates modernism‘s grim after effects. This is an anti-picturesque spot on the fringes of mainstream taste populated by the detritus of the 20th Century.

Here, Michael Graves’s Portland Building sits alongside Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building. Ugly Valley (just a hill over from Uncanny Valley) is a place bounded by temporality.

Read More …

How one responds to the exhibition now on view at SCI-Arc may very well depend on the ability to distinguish between a duck and a swan. “The Duck and the Document: True Stories of Postmodern Procedures” begins with a wall-sized construction drawing for a fountain in the forecourt of Michael Graves’ Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando. The drawing at first seems to be a graphic representation of Robert Venturi, FAIA, and Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA’s definition of “duck”: an emblem of architecture’s most valiant form-making impulses. Read More …

In 1966, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi took the research trip to Las Vegas that produced the famous photo of her posed arms akimbo, legs firmly planted in the desert against a pattern of casino signs. It’s a career-defining image: iconic in how forcefully it establishes her and Venturi’s belief in an architecture of communication and, in recent years, emblematic of Scott Brown’s position as an outspoken role model for women in the field. Read More …

Nearly a month after Denise Scott Brown and her husband and partner Robert Venturi received the 2016 AIA Gold Medal and a few days before the RIBA awarded Zaha Hadid the 2016 Royal Gold Medal, I get on the phone to outspoken curator and architect Eva Franch i Gilabert, director of New York City’s Storefront for Art and Architecture. I explain I’m writing a piece about women in architecture. Read More …

“Well, ‘what happens in Vegas … ’?” began a Yale University professor, Emmanuel Petit, about halfway through the first day of the “Architecture After Las Vegas” symposium held at the New Haven institution in January. It was just a matter of time before someone invoked Sin City’s marketing slogan—such low-hanging fruit at a highbrow conference. The crowd that filled the auditorium of Paul Rudolph Hall—academics, architects, and students—tittered at the pop-culture quip. Read More …

“Well, ‘what happens in Vegas … ’?” began a Yale University professor, Emmanuel Petit, about halfway through the first day of the “Architecture After Las Vegas” symposium held at the New Haven institution in January. It was just a matter of time before someone invoked Sin City’s marketing slogan—such low-hanging fruit at a highbrow conference. The crowd that filled the auditorium of Paul Rudolph Hall—academics, architects, and students—tittered at the pop-culture quip.

Read More …