Last Updated on July 7, 2023

What do you think about architecture Las Vegas? Garish or glorious?

Hold that thought.

New York. Paris. Venice. Egypt.

The world’s great historic cultural capitals.

In Las Vegas, thanks to the Luxor, Venetian, Paris and New York-New York casino hotels, you can visit them all in one day.

Kidding aside, high culture rarely springs to mind when thinking about Las Vegas. Nightlife, dining, gaming, sports, shows, spectacle, pop music, spas, pools. Sure.

Fine art, architecture of Las Vegas, film, literature, theatre–nah.

That’s changing.

Spearheading the charge to see Vegas reconsidered as cultural hotspot from cultural afterthought is The Neon Museum. This October 27 through 30, 2023, The Neon Museum launched its inaugural Duck Duck Shed: Celebrating Las Vegas Architecture, Design, and Culture festival.

“There is no place on earth like this town,” Aaron Berger, executive director of The Neon Museum, told “No place has our pioneering architecture, specific aesthetic for design, or a city culture quite like this one. Duck Duck Shed celebrates that exceptionality.”

No argument there.

No one has ever woken up in Vegas thinking they were in New York, Paris, Venice, Egypt or anywhere else on the planet no matter how much fun they had the night before. Architecture Las Vegas contributes to its unique sense of place.

Considered collectively and without snobbery, is The Strip any less remarkable than the Champs-Élysées? Are Vegas’ monumental casinos any less of an achievement than Egypt’s monumental pyramids? Are the thousands of performers working the desert every night–dancers, singers, musicians, comics, acrobats, ventriloquists, magicians–less talented than those on Broadway?

Las Vegas emerges as a premier cultural destination as soon as traditional perceptions of what qualifies as “culture” subside. Berger has experienced this firsthand.

“As a career museum professional, I had a number of questions from my peers about joining The Neon Museum, but I have found Las Vegas to have a completely unique point of view when it comes to arts and culture,” he said. “While other cities have long-established art museums, we have casinos with private collections that rival fine art institutions around the world. Almost a decade before moving here, I saw my first Jeff Koons in Las Vegas. I also saw my first Damien Hirst here. MGM Resorts sold 11 Picassos in an effort to purchase works that elevate female artists, LGBT artists, and artists of color. I love the idea of embracing the concept that our ‘art museum’ may be a casino.”

Exterior of Golden Nugget
Photo by 4kclips | Shutterstock

Architecture of Las Vegas

Duck Duck Shed focuses on themes first identified in “Learning from Las Vegas” by Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour. The text celebrates its 50th year since initial printing and is still considered required reading in many universities’ architecture programs. Architecture Las Vegas in college classrooms! The authors developed the idea that buildings are either “ducks,” explicitly and literally representing their function through their unique shape and design, or “decorated sheds,” buildings that require a sign to differentiate one from another. Examples of this concept over the course of Las Vegas history include the Tropicana which opened in 1957 and Resorts World that opened just last year as “decorated sheds,” and the Excalibur, Luxor and Circus Circus as “ducks.”

The four-day architecture of Las Vegas event featured more than three dozen individual offerings celebrating the city’s iconic architecture from past to the present including walking tours, aerial tours, sessions with industry experts and once-in-a-lifetime tours of Jungle Palace, the historic estate of Siegfried & Roy, a private home that has never been granted public access.

“To me, it’s Las Vegas encapsulated in one place,” Berger said of Jungle Palace. “If Duck Duck Shed is intended to celebrate Las Vegas architecture, design, and culture, Jungle Palace showcases all three.  The house itself is not terribly large, however the architectural flourish is so grand, visitors feel overwhelmed by its details. It’s hard to imagine this was their home. The cats came home with them and lived happily amongst the staff and residents.”

The Neon Museum

Signs at the Neon Museum
Photo by Smeerjewegproducties | Shutterstock

In further reconsidering Las Vegas as a cultural destination, consider its iconic neon, the dazzling billboards of architecture Las Vegas. Neon production requires a skilled craftsman same as quilting, pottery or metalsmithing. Many of today’s top contemporary artists from Tracey Emin to Hank Willis Thomas have neon pieces in museums around the world.

The miles of neon which light up Las Vegas represent an in-situ art environment unsurpassed anywhere. Historic examples of the iconic hotel and casino signs which Vegas became famous for can be experienced up close at The Neon Museum where the city’s history is told through the marquees.  

An outdoor exhibition space known as the Neon Boneyard highlights the museum with an immersive audiovisual experience, “Brilliant! Jackpot,” debuting earlier in 2022 using technology to re-illuminate more than 40 non-operational signs.

The Neon Museum’s visitors’ center is inside the former La Concha Motel lobby. The museum collection also includes nine restored signs installed as public art in downtown Las Vegas.

“Historic preservation doesn’t always come to mind when you think of Las Vegas,” Berger acknowledges. “We are a city of innovation and a constantly evolving landscape, but with that comes a reputation of tearing down and building new, tearing down and building new–this phrase bears repeating twice.”

The Neon Museum has celebrated Vegas history since opening in 1996. Fifty years prior, Bugsy Siegel opened the Pink Flamingo, the first luxury hotel-casino on the Strip. Duck Duck Shed makes the case that through the intervening decades, something exceptional happened there. A built environment developed worthy of admiration alongside other manmade wonders.

“Duck Duck Shed allows us to use the entire city as our museum; we can expand well beyond our 2-acre campus and showcase the gems throughout this city–both historic and new,” Berger said. “Our team is motivated to highlight all that makes Las Vegas the one-of-a-kind, iconic city that it is.”