Is there anywhere else in the world where a few square kilometers contain Frank Gehry’s work? … [+]
Photo by Daniil Vnoutchkov on Unsplash
Las Vegas! I spent four days there last week, alternating my time between attending the Inman Connect conference, where my daughter Clelia conducted interviews and moderated panels, and the Manny for her 6 month old daughter Frederica. The experience gave me a lot of time to think about Vegas, especially as an architectural drawing board. World-class architecture exists cheek to cheek with absolute shock, regardless of consistency or sense of the aesthetic whole. There is no other place like it in that regard, except maybe Beverly Hills. How does the architecture itself add to the overall task of the Las Vegas Strip, which of course is to force people to gamble and shop as much as possible?
A bit of history: Las Vegas, named after the rolling grasses that once filled the valley from underground springs, was incorporated as a city in the first decade of the 20th century. Although gambling, prostitution, and wagering were against the law, enforcement was lax and several cities in Nevada, including Ely, became notorious. With the legalization of gambling in the early 1930s and changes in divorce law that made Nevada the state with the shortest residency requirement in the country (six weeks), Vegas began the path that made it what it is today. With the construction of the Art Deco-inspired Flamingo Hotel by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in the late 1940s, the era of super deluxe hotels began and has remained to this day.
Unlike New York, whose architecture I studied for my four decades in the real estate business, the growth of Las Vegas is completely inorganic. In New York, demand drives new building creation as the city grows. Las Vegas is where the buildings are built, each fancier than the last create Demand. And judging by the City Center complex, the planners are getting better and better at it.
The overwhelming retro character of some hotels: Faux Rome in Caesar’s Palace, Faux Paris in Caesar’s Paris Las Vegas, Faux Manhattan in New York-New York, Faux Venice (including gondola rides through shopping arcades that look like Piazza San Marco) stands strong Contrast with the city center, which is home to the hotel and shopping complexes of some of the world’s greatest architects.
We stayed at the Aria designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. The architecture is impressive both outside and inside. On the outside, two opposing ellipses rise above many of the surrounding buildings. Inside, the soaring, light-flooded public spaces filled with world-class art (Maya Lin’s “Silver River” over the main reception is a standout feature) create a sense of expanse that then accentuates the transition to the darker lower ceilings. Wrapping room in which the windowless casino is located. Once inside, the 150,000 square meter casino area, dark and seductive, is wrapped in a labyrinthine design that makes it difficult to leave. It is a prime example of a shape improving function. The Vdara Hotel, designed by Rafael Vinoly, reflects that less-is-more aesthetic, and Daniel Liebeskind’s Crystals shopping district houses the world’s most expensive stores in a sharp-edged exterior that penetrates the streets of Las Vegas like a cluster of exclamation marks. Inside, the individual brands are all angled against each other so that for a moment each store appears like the only one you see.
Las Vegas offers the visitor the opportunity to sum up much of the architectural history of the past 50 years. The city itself is a building booming only because of the advent of air conditioning and the drainage of large amounts of water from the Colorado River. In contrast to the locations in New York, St. Louis or Chicago, nothing in itself makes sense in the placement of Las Vegas. It’s in the middle of the desert. And this anomalous and overarching sense of displacement and fantasy plays out in the city’s architectural eclecticism.
The early hotels sought to add “glamor” by copying in miniature some of the world’s most famous buildings and monuments. The Grand Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain were just a stone’s throw away from each other. But over time, more congress participants and high rollers came, and the star architects, as well as the restaurateurs, came. Is there anywhere else in the world where a few square kilometers contain works by Frank Gehry, César Pelli, Daniel Liebeskind, Rafael Vinoly, Helmut Jahn and others, all of which are mixed up with no discernible sense of place or right to exist? attract customers? When you see these new buildings and see how they manipulate public space and play space or seduce the buyer, a 21st century perspective emerges on the use of design to define and create not only spaces but also experiences. Las Vegas is the avatar of a brave new architectural world.