Karrie Jacobs


January 4, 2010

The More Things Change…

Engelbert Humperdinck meets Daniel Libeskind.

I keep thinking I should say something. I should list the highs and lows of the past decade or make predictions for the new one. And, yeah, I could cobble together a pretty good roster of momentous architectural events of the early 21st century and make a few guesses about what might happen in the near future. And I might just do that. Soon.

The photo above was taken in October, when I was in Las Vegas reporting a story about the recently opened CityCenter complex for the February issue of Travel + Leisure. And it seems like as good an illustration as any that the idea of progress, that human knowledge and skills move relentlessly forward, is not quite right.

The jaggy, future-ish building in the background is the Crystals shopping mall, with architecture by Daniel Libeskind and interiors by David Rockwell. In the foreground is the Strip, where every pop cultural moment that ever was lives on for all eternity. Engelbert Humperdinck is there, as are Donnie and Marie, Garth Brooks, Sha Na Na, and the Kingston Trio. Nothing and no one ever dies.

Crystals is actually Libeskind’s second shopping mall. His first is in Bern, Switzerland. As it turns out, the architect, famous for his museums and his highbrow blather, is very good at malls. And his showboat architectural style actually makes perfect sense on The Strip.

And, of course, Libeskind has done some conceptual thinking about the shopping mall. Here’s what he said when I asked him about museums versus malls:

These old typologies — public buildings/private buildings, commercial buildings/non commercial building — are typologies from the past. What I believe is that they don’t exist in everyday life. The idea is to create an incredible space. And, in a way a shopping concourse is also a public space like a museum and that’s exactly how I tried to design it.

A luxe mall with a Louis Vuitton store as its flagship was not what I would have anticipated a decade ago when I visited Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. I guess what I’m saying is that predictions, especially the ones that suppose that change is in any way linear, are generally wrong. The future — whether we’re talking a decade, or a century, or a millennium — is more like a cavalcade of lateral shifts. And, hey, maybe Libeskind is on to something; maybe the thing to look at is typological, rather than technological or stylistic, change.

More later.

p.s. Speaking of progress that isn’t progress, here’s a my Metropolis column about the Las Vegas Monorail.

p.p.s. Happy New Decade!!!