The Unreal America

From “Colonial Williamsburg” to “Walt Disney Enterprises” American architects have contributed to meeting a distinctly American fascination with the replacement of reality with illusion. From historical restorations to museum exhibits and theme parks, the nation abounds with substitutes for reality, even nature itself, in an ever extending landscape of constructions, displays, and entertainments Ada Huxtable gives the droll label “America the Faux.”

Some of it is tolerable because it is done with panache and imagination and does not entirely exclude the real world. Huxtable has nice things to say about City Walk in Universal City (Los Angeles, California). Despite its architectural parodies and commercial hype, it is designed for people and their genuine amusement. She deplores, on the other hand, the artificiality of the “computerized sunsets” at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and the “grotesquely grandiose” effects achieved by developers unencumbered by architects.

The artificial exuberance of America the Faux is balanced by the originality and organic or “free form” of architects like Frank Gehry. This “New Architecture,” however, is not exactly creating an America the beautiful. There is a tendency toward self-indulgence, and Huxtable is wary of an architecture that sacrifices use to the invention of pure form.

Her chief concern is that the flippant and often vulgar illusionary architecture of the day may diminish our expectations in architectural dignity. The trashy public buildings of the day—schools and court buildings—undermine the social and political significance of the functions they serve.