Decorated sheds at the urban crossroads [extract]
Times Square Style: Graphics from the Great White WayBy Vicki Gold Levi and Steven Heller, Princeton Architectural Press, £14.99
In 1972, postmodern architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi proclaimed they were ‘learning from Las Vegas’. But decades before the Vegas Strip was a gleam in mobster Bugsy Seigel’s eye, Times Square in New York City was a crucible for American design. Times Square Style celebrates the centenary of the 1904 opening of the New York Times Building on 42nd Street from which the area (formerly Longacre Square) gets its name. The book surveys visual culture from the 100-year history of the Crossroads of the World.
Times Square Style is a companion to Cuba Style: Graphics from the Golden Age of Design (Princeton, 2002), also by Levi and Heller, the former a writer and co-founder of the Atlantic City Historical Museum and the latter senior art director of The New York Times and one of America’s most prolific design historians (see Heller’s ‘Truth and distortion’, pp.57-64). As with their earlier volume, Levi and Heller find that God is in the details: they reproduce advertisements, brochures, theatre programmes, luggage tags, period photographs and dozens of other examples of the American design vernacular and its genres. In keeping with its subject, the book mixes tasteful and tacky, high and low. The content ranges from the splendid and spectacular to the sordid and squalid. Running through it all is America’s commitment to consumerism. [...]