Book Reviews / Comptes Rendus de Livres - Lesansky, D. Medina and Brian McLaren. 2004. Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance and Place. -

Lesansky, D. Medina and Brian McLaren. 2004. Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance and Place.

Colin Ripley
Ryerson University

Review of Lesansky, D. Medina and Brian McLaren. 2004. Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance and Place. Oxford, New York: Berg.
Pp. 275, 45 black and white figures, soft cover, ISBN 1859737099

1 Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance and Place is a wide-ranging collection of articles about, in Lesansky’s words, “the reciprocal relationship between the modern practice of tourism and the built environment.” The chapters, born as presentations to the College Art Association annual meeting in 2002 are, in essence, a series of case studies. The subjects being studied vary widely both geographically—from Rome to Mauritius—and temporally, from the 18th century to the present day, while the ideas being considered take up a fairly narrow bandwidth. Most, if not all of the chapters, deal primarily with the relationship between the construction of place and the construction of identity. The question of authenticity is raised—though not satisfactorily addressed—by a number of the papers, as is that of propaganda, which becomes in these essays a technique for a type of intentional creation of a common identity. A very useful Introduction by Lesansky and Foreword by Davydd J. Greenwood (something of a foundational figure in this area of study) go a long way toward setting the context and tying these diverse papers together.

2 Still, at a certain point I found myself thinking that reading this volume is rather like taking a packaged tour through thirteen countries in thirteen days—not necessarily a bad thing. Like most people, I like to travel, and sitting down every evening for a couple of weeks in a new part of the world, generally fascinating in both place and time (and all the chapters were fascinating, in their own way) was something I came to look forward to. If the book opened with experiences with which I already had some degree of familiarity—Rome, Greece, the Grand Tour—the bus soon pulled into more exotic, less well-travelled landscapes. By the time we got to colonial Libya and the architecture of desert hotels I was in full gear as a traveller, washing my (metaphorical) underwear in the hotel sink at night, ready to eat whatever local food the tour company had arranged, eager to see the new sites.

3 Well, maybe I’m getting a little carried away—but isn’t that, in a way, the point?

4 By about chapter seven, somewhere in the middle of the book, my initial excitement gave way to a kind of traveller’s weariness. Thinking back on the reading experience, I would attribute this weariness to the consistency of the ideas in the various chapters: the traveller’s experience of yet another museum or cathedral, was replaced by yet another questioning of the nature of authenticity or example of the manipulation of spatial constructs for ideological and political ends. I found myself wishing that the editors had done more to deepen the discussions rather than allowing each chapter to cover, in reality, the same theoretical ground. Each chapter—like each one-hour visit to a cathedral—raised many interesting questions, only to leave this reviewer dangling and wanting to know more: How do the chapters fit together? What is missed in the discussion as a result of the format? What falls between?

5 Like the package-tour traveller, this weariness led, by about day (chapter) ten, to a vague dissatisfaction, although some of the grounds for dissatisfaction are perhaps not really fair. For example, I was disappointed that how each case study was treated, essentially, as an historical artifact; surely a book on Architecture and Tourism should have some speculative or at least projective content. I yearned to see, for example, a design proposal for the Ghanaian slave dungeons, or an urban plan for Old Havana, or the design for a new and different resort on Mauritius that does account for the island’s brutal colonial past. Perhaps I was disappointed—as an architect—to see so little architecture (as opposed to architectural criticism or architectural history) in the book. We are, after all, promised in the Foreword that these chapters are the work of “scholars with a primarily architectural and historical focus.” By my count only six of the fifteen contributors teach, work, or are students in architecture or architectural history programs; the others are cultural historians, professors of English, lecturers in development policy and so on. While I don’t want to deny the value of interdisciplinarity, in this case the result is a volume that seems to lack a certain degree of disciplinary meat. I am surprised, for example, that with the exception of Joan Ockman’s erudite and insightful chapter (which managed to keep me on the bus to the end), there are virtually no references to the rather large body of architectural theory from the last three decades. The introduction, for example, which includes something of a literature review, cites only two works from the architectural canon—one published in 1972, the other in 1978. Even the papers explicitly discussing colonial issues do not cite the considerable body of post-colonial architectural theory and history; those focusing on issues of gender and sexuality do not cite the equally huge body of architectural literature in those areas. Surely someone in the world of architecture has written about Las Vegas in the thirty-five years since Venturi’s book.

6 If with few exceptions architecture seemed to be missing, what really made me want to get off the bus was the limited discussion of tourism in the book. Where are the chapters that address tourism as an economic activity, or discuss the meaning of tourism to individuals or cultures? Where are the chapters about tourism and the environment, or analyses of resort culture? While perhaps unfair, these complaints are, nevertheless, unavoidable. By allowing each chapter to focus on a particular site, and by the narrow focus of all chapters on the question of identity, the larger discussion is left unbroached.

7 I know this all sounds grumpy, but by this point I am missing the comforts of home—tired of sleeping in a different bed every night, or trying to sleep on the bus, eating strange food, using unfamiliar facilities...

Postscript

8 Of course, the real value of a trip only becomes apparent long after returning home. The memories that remain, the lessons learned, the snapshots in the photo album—or hard drive—are what really matter, along with what one has learned about oneself. In retrospect, I must say that this was an enjoyable book to read; several of the chapters (particularly those by Barbara Penner, Cheryl Finley, Miriam Basilio and Brian McLaren) have stayed with me in a significant way. On the whole this is a valuable piece of work, and if I am disappointed by what is not discussed, I am pleased with what is included. If I am occasionally left desirous of more information (plans and sections of the Poconos honeymoon suites, and not just advertisements, would have been nice), what is there remains substantial. I can’t wait for my next trip.

References

Venturi, R., D. Scott Brown, et al. 1972. Learning from Las Vegas. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.