The Architecture of Controversy within Its Economic Context

Jon Anthony & Evie Soileau

 

The integration of new controversial typologies within the urban landscape is highly influenced by local economic scales, shaping the typologies’ subsequent development.  In the 17th century, the growth and commercialization during the Edo period of Japan led to the development of pleasure districts, such as Yoshiwara in present-day Tokyo. The introduction of coffee consumption and development of coffeehouses within the marketplace, first in the Middle East then Europe was spurred by the expanding middle class and increased world interactions stimulated by 17th-19th century colonialism. In 20th century America, the economic activity induced by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s and the subsequent development of national thoroughfares through Las Vegas helped generate the city’s modern entertainment identity on a city-wide scale, linearized by the industry’s focus along the city’s highways. Each example displays, increasing in scale, that the controversy is first fueled by economic demand, an architectural response is presented, and upon integration within the urban fabric, in turn changes its context on a variety of scales.

Coffeehouses

Turkey, England, Austria, 1600-1800s

Coffeehouses were developed in direct response to the expansion of the coffee trade, shaping the marketplaces in which they were established and becoming the hubs of social and cultural interaction of their respective economic districts. The first coffeehouses were said to have emerged in the bustling trade ports in the emerging Tahtakale neighborhood of Istanbul during the 1500s (Gokce 1). The Arab merchants who first brought the coffee bean from Africa were the first people who opened the coffeehouses in Istanbul (Ozkocak 967). The coffeehouse, from the onset, was based upon economic activity within a bustling commercial area. They also faced opposition early on, with the Ottoman empire issuing imperial decrees for their prohibition (Ozkocak 967). In the Islamic world, coffee was forbidden because some authorities thought the drink to be intoxicating (Ching 559). Coffeehouses developed into social hubs dominated by men within the emerging marketplace, creating a public sphere of not only literary and political discourse, but also that of business transactions.

Fig. 01 / A map of coffeehouses in 18th century Galata showed that the greater concentration of commercial activity, the greater the amount of coffeehouses. Source: Ozkocak 969
Fig. 01 / A map of coffeehouses in 18th century Galata showed that the greater concentration of commercial activity, the greater the amount of coffeehouses. In the bottom right, the Tophane-i Amire region had the most densely developed marketplace, and subsequently the most amount of coffeehouses in the region. Source: Ozkocak 969
Fig. 02 / The plan of a coffeehouse in Erdine, Turkey shows the integration of multiple commercial venues within the building itself. Source: Ozkocak 980
Fig. 02 / The plan of a coffeehouse in Erdine, Turkey shows the integration of multiple commercial venues within the building itself. Source: Ozkocak 980

In the 1600s, major commercial centers of Istanbul showed greatly increased numbers of coffeehouses (Ozkocak 967). In fact, there was a positive correlation between the level of economic activity in the marketplace and the density of coffeehouses (Ozkocak 967). After the end of the Turkish trade monopoly over coffee beans ended in the early 17th century, coffee’s popularity in Europe rapidly expanded. The wealth created in Europe by colonialism and the subsequent growth in desire for exotic luxury goods by the newfound European middle class supplied this demand for coffee. Over three thousand coffeehouses were established in England by 1800 (Ching 559). In Austria, the coffeehouse became an important part of Viennese culture dating back to the mid 18th century as a hub of social and cultural interaction (UNESCO). As an individual building typology, the coffeehouse developed rapidly throughout regions in the town, counting up to thirty-three shops in just one region, shown in Figure 1. The coffeehouse itself was highly integrated with its urban commercial surroundings. A plan of a coffeehouse in Erdine, Turkey, shows that the coffeehouse itself is mixed with a grocery store and an inn (Fig. 02). The rise of the coffeehouse, although at times challenged by the government, prevailed because of its regional scale as a hub of cultural interaction and business that in turn promised economic success.

 

 

 

 

Shimabara Pleasure District

Tokyo, Japan, 1600s, Tokugawa Shogunate

The political stability during the Tokugawa shogunate increased Japan’s trade and commerce, influencing the development of walled pleasure districts within the city, financed by newly rich townspeople. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate was very politically powerful and strict, due to the shogun’s imposition of the Bakufu code, a strict set of hierarchical rules that predetermined everyone’s place within the social realm. In order to distance itself from the imperial family, the shogunate moved the capital to Edo, now Tokyo, subsequently beginning the construction of a new city envisioned as a spiral with separate neighborhoods developed in relation to that of the social divisions created by the Bakufu code. Merchants and artisans lived in the southwest part of Edo. While Edo was being built from scratch, the city of Kyoto was undergoing redesign guided by strong social divisions as well (Ching 590). Edo, as an economic powerhouse, was largely comprised of male merchants and tradesmen from all over Japan gathered for business (Downer 11). The newly rich classes like the chonin–merchants and artisans, the equivalent of today’s middle class–developed from the period’s expanding commerce and city growth. However, the social status of the merchant and artisan classes did not match their economic power, resulting in a displaced hub of economic and social interaction, separate from the rest of the town sectors (Shelton 35).

Fig. 03 /  The plans of Kyoto, Japan, show the enclosured pleasure district of Shimabara sequestered in the southwest section of the city. Source: Ching 590
Fig. 03 / The plans of Kyoto, Japan, show the enclosured pleasure district of Shimabara sequestered in the southwest section of the city. Source: Ching 590

It was in these delineated, sequestered spaces where wealth and economics reigned supreme over social class, and the Shimabara developed into a walled pleasure district containing the city’s prostitutes (MET). The Shimabara district was a confined area of mixed public space and social misdemeanor, a mixing of social classes, with movement in and out controlled by the kido gate (Shelton 92). Within the Shimabara were the ageya—pleasure houses—which adopted architectural forms traditionally allowed only by upper class residences. However, the façades were simple, many recessed from the street line and screened to obscure views in but allowing guests to look out (Ching 590-1). This disparity between class and economic power created a need for an area of entertainment and consumption that superseded class limitations, and thus the walled pleasure districts developed to include other venues, like theaters. The typology of pleasure houses became isolated in their own zones, operating on an economic scale supported by the newfound wealth of the moneyed merchant classes, equally sequestered. As a sequestered and controlled district, shown by the wall and kido gate, the Shimabara contained a mix of social classes yet concentrated wealth, mixing architectural typologies of the rich with discreet exteriors to contain economically fuelled social transgression.

Fig. 04 / A street view of the Sumiya ageya in Kyoto shows the unassuming façades of pleasure house typologies, featuring one-way screens and recession from the street line. Source: http://www.tripadvisor.com/
Fig. 04 / A street view of the Sumiya ageya in Kyoto shows the unassuming façades of pleasure house typologies, featuring one-way screens and recession from the street line. Source: http://www.tripadvisor.com/

 

 

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada, 1930-1960

The economic growth that Las Vegas experienced during construction of the Hoover Dam, initiated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, propelled the city to capitalize on its appeal as a tourist center with legalized gambling. The development of hotel-casinos along thoroughfares constructed a linear entertainment industry hub unfolding in time at the city scale. In the early 1900s, Las Vegas was a rest stop on the Old Spanish Trail in the middle of the Mojave Desert (Moehring 9). In the 1930s, the construction of the Hoover Dam brought an incredible amount of economic growth to the city, changing it forever. Between 1930 and 1939, the federal government spent more than $70 million dollars into the area, while New Deal programs saw millions of dollars in infrastructure spending (Moehring 13-14). Las Vegas would sprawl its suburban growth along Boulder Highway, the extension of Fremont Street to the Hoover Dam, throughout the rest of the 20th century (Moehring 99). Combined with the legalization of casino gambling in 1931, tourism began to soar and revenue came pouring into Las Vegas (Moehring & Green 91). Casinos quickly began to appear along Boulder Highway upon its completion (Moehring & Green 87). Additionally, local businessmen began to invest in Las Vegas in order to take advantage of the dam project’s stimulus to the local economy (Moehring & Green 85).

Fig. 05 / A map of Las Vegas shows how the hub of gambling activity in downtown on Fremont Street expanded along Boulder Highway to the Hoover Dam, then to Highway 91 with the development of the Strip. Source: Google Maps
Fig. 05 / A map of Las Vegas shows how the hub of gambling activity in downtown on Fremont Street expanded along Boulder Highway to the Hoover Dam, then to Highway 91 with the development of the Strip. Source: Google Maps

The subsequent construction of Highway 91 in 1937 linked Las Vegas to Los Angeles, creating another thoroughfare of economic activity. Highway 91 would become known as The Strip, the linear core of Las Vegas’s gambling entertainment industry. The first casino-hotel of the strip, El Rancho, was established on the southwest corner of Highway 91 outside of the city line (Moehring 44). Building outside the city limits was cheaper, so the casino-hotels of The Strip became larger and more luxurious than their downtown counterparts (Bakken 474). Additionally, the linearity of The Strip and the lack of its “sectional character” contributed to an extension of economic activity along the datum of the boulevard (Middlebrook 2). Because of the influx of industry and capital due to the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas of the 1930s and 40s became a center of tourism as business leaders began building larger and more opulent hotel-casinos, setting the stage for the city’s large-scale entertainment industry (Moehring & Green 100). The area’s business leaders simultaneously took advantage of the state’s legalization of gambling and the development of major thoroughfares which both connected old entertainment hubs and created new ones along the thoroughfares themselves, including The Strip. The economics of the era fostered the build up of infrastructure, creating a datum along which gambling could spread. Thus the typology of the gambling industry’s opulent hotel-casinos developed on the city-wide scale along national thoroughfares, originally fueled by a large-scale government-sponsored industrial project.

Fig. 06 / Signage figures prominently along the Strip. Source:  Izenour, Scott-Brown, Venturi 50
Fig. 06 / Signage figures prominently along the Strip. Source: Izenour, Scott-Brown, Venturi 50

 

 

Conclusion

Controversial typologies are catalysts for economic exchange and growth and integrate with the city in a variety of ways. Particular economic climates catalyze the growth of controversial venues, which in turn are shaped by their economic manifestations. Coffeehouses provided a mix of public and private while including various other economic activities within their walls as a result of their integration with the marketplace. Edo’s Shimabara district became a walled and gated community in result of the rebuilding associated with social rules as determined by the Tokugawa shogunate. Las Vegas became a city of entertainment sprawled along highways as a result of interstate expansion and infrastructure spending. Thus, controversial goods and their respective venues shape and are shaped by the economics of their urban contexts.

 

RESEARCH RESOURCES

Bakken, Gordon M. Icons of the American West: From Cowgirls to Silicon Valley. Greenwood Press, 2008. 466-469.

Ching, Francis D.K. et al., A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 559.

Ching, Francis D.K. et al., A Global History of Architecture (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 590-591.

Downer, Lesley. Women of the Pleasure Quarter: The Secret History of the Geisha. Broadway Books, 2001. 823-880.

Middlebrook, James. Vegas Flytrap: The Beacon and the Labyrinth. February 22, 2012. Date Accessed: October 13, 2013. http://immanencestudio.com/projects/essays/vegas/vegasfly.htm

Moehring, Eugene P. Resort City in the Sunbelt: Las Vegas, 1930-1970. Reno: Univesity of Nevada, 1989.

Moehring, Eugene P. and Michael S. Green. Las Vegas: A Centennial History. Reno: University of Nevada, 2005.

Ozkocak, Selma A. “Coffeehouses: Rethinking the Public and Private in Early Modern Istanbul.” Journal of Urban History. August 20, 2007. Accessed October 13, 2013. http://juh.sagepub.com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/content/33/6/965

Shelton, Barrie. Learning from the Japanese City: Looking East in Urban Design (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2012), 35.

Turkish Cultural Foundation. “The Tradition of Coffee and Coffeehouse Among Turks.” Accessed October 13, 2013. http://www.turkishculture.org/lifestyles/turkish-culture-portal/coffeehouses-204.htm

UNESCO. “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria: Viennese Coffee House Culture.” Accessed October 14, 2013. http://immaterielleskulturerbe.unesco.at/cgi-bin/unesco/element.pl?eid=71&lang=en

 

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