Macau and the Casino Complex
Stefan Al (Editor)
University of Nevada Press, January 2018
Paperback | 6 x 8-1/4 inches | 224 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1943859382 | $24.95
In only a decade, Macau has exploded from a sleepy backwater to the world’s casino capital. It was bound to happen. Macau, a former Portuguese colony that became a special administrative region within the People’s Republic of China in 1999, was the only place in China where gambling was legal. With a consumer base of 1.3 billion mainland Chinese deprived of casino gambling, and the world’s largest growing consumer class, international corporations rushed in to enter the games. As a result, the casino influx has permanently transformed the Macau peninsula: its ocean reclaimed, hillside excavated, roads congested, air polluted, and glimmering hotel towers tossed into the skyline, dwarfing the 19th century church towers.
number of experts give a deeper insight on topics ranging from the myth of the Chinese gambler, the role of feng shui in casino design, the city’s struggle with heritage conservation, the politics of land reclamation, and the effect of the casino industry on the public realm. Drawings and photographs in vivid color visualize Macau’s patchwork of distinct urban enclaves: from downtown casinos, their neon-blasting storefronts eclipsing adjacent homes and schools, to the palatial complexes along a new highway, a Las Vegas-style strip. They also reveal how developers go to great lengths to impress the gambler with gimmicks such as fluorescent lighting, botanic gardens, feng shui dragon statues, cast members’ costumes, Chinese art imitations, and crystal chandelier-decked elevators. It is a book that helps readers grasp the complex process of the development of the casino industry and its overall impact on the social and architectural fabric of the first and last colonial enclave in China.
In Octoer 2018 a 55-kilometer-long bridge/tunnel connecting Hong Kong and Macau opened to the public. Why connect these two coastal areas, the first a former British colony and the second a former colony of Portugal? The one-word answer: gambling. The road infrastructure connects Hong Kong, a city of 8 million, to Macau, the “world’s casino capital.” It also connects Macau and Hong Kong International Airport, meaning the pool of gamblers with an easy route to Macau is closer to 1 billion, drawing from China and other parts of East Asia. Bridging the Pearl River Delta was first proposed in the 1980s, when Macau’s land mass was around 16 km2 and made up of a peninsula (Macau) and two islands (Taipa, Coloane) reached by bridges. Today the total area is nearly double that, at 30 km2, due to land reclamation that has effectively joined the Taipa and Coloane into one island. What was built on the landfill that came to be known as Cotai? A Las Vegas Strip-style thoroughfare of huge casinos that expanded Macau’s “casino complex.”
I’ll admit I knew little about Macau before dipping into this book (part of UNLV’s The Gambling Studies Series) edited by Stefan Al, who earlier wrote a book about Las Vegas. Vegas comes across as small beans compared to Macau, though each place has many of the same players: MGM Grand, Sands, Venetian, and Wynn, to name a few. Macau and the Casino Complex presents Macau’s related land growth and casino boom in two parts: seven essays by a diverse lot of academics, ranging from architecture and urbanism to economics and even feng shui. The second part is a catalog of casinos in Macau, presented through architectural diagrams and done in geographical order: Macau Peninsula, Nape (landfill that grew the peninsula), Taipa, and Cotai. This geography coincides with the area’s chronological land expansion, and accordingly the casinos get larger and larger over time. (One of the last, Cotai Sands, has 6,000 hotel rooms!) Architecturally, the casinos of Macau are garish and not worthy of much attention, but with the area’s urban morphology, incredibly high density, and near-the-top-of-the-list per capita GDP, it’s not a place that can continue to be ignored.
Stefan Al is a Dutch architect, urban designer, author, and educator. Over the years, Stefan has directed the urban design programs at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Pennsylvania, where he co-taught an online course, Designing Cities, with more than 70,000 students. He currently is a visiting professor at Tongji University in Shanghai and Pratt Institute in New York.