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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Las Vegas Architecture

The worst of the worst. I won't identify it, but I probably don't need to.
Copyright, Jim Lane
So over the top, they named it twice.
Yes, that's a rollercoaster wrapping its
tentacles around the mass (or mess).
WOW! Las Vegas architecture--now there's an oxymoron if there every was one. Some would equate it to Walt Disney Architecture. Others would cringe at the two words even being used in the same sentence. Such people would fall into two categories, those that have been to Las Vegas and actually experienced the city firsthand and those who have only absorbed the stereotypes--gaudy, imitative, overdrawn, outrageous, congested, uncoordinated, ridiculously expensive, ludicrous, hideous, or (to make a long list short) just plain ugly. A couple months ago, my wife and I fell into the first category, we spent two days and three nights there. Some of the stereotype is "spot-on." But virtually ever city I've ever visited has it's ugly architecture. Detractors might counter, yes, but Vegas seems to glorify in it. They don't call it "sin city" for nothing. And from an architectural point of view, the biggest sins are not the gambling, the prostitution, the gluttony, the drunkenness, and adultery, but the discordant architectural venues designers have amassed for such things in such a small area.
Though horrendous on the outside, Inside, many of the hotels are immodestly
attractive. Except for the comically illusionary floor, this Renaissance
hallway could pass for the real thing in Italy.

One of the top excursions in Las Vegas.
Every city has its redeeming values, and while Vegas might well be considered to have come up short in this regard, they are, nonetheless, quite present if you know what to look for. For me personally, in having been there, perhaps the most surprising factor I noticed is that the city is so lower-middle-class, both in its patronage and in the architecture designed to appeal to such people. The media and the chamber of commerce both portray the city as ultra-sophisticated, chic, tastefully luxurious, and, above all discrete ("What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas"). Virtually all of that is bogus. The number one most popular tourist activity in Vegas (apart from eating, drinking, and gambling) is not a nudie floorshow, not a Broadway musical production, not a helicopter tour of Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon. No, it's a guided excursion via armored personnel carrier to a place in the desert where (for a steep price) one can fire live ammunition using various types of assault weapons from machine guns to grenade launchers. Also near the top of that list is a similar excursion where you can learn to play with full-size, heavy-duty, earth-moving equipment. (They should move this one to "the strip.") And not far below that is a no-holds-barred ATV romp over the desert sands. None of those are ultra-sophisticated, chic, or tasteful. They're straight from redneck heaven. Mostly, that's the case for the architecture as well.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Camelot it was not.
We stayed in faux medieval grandeur at a high-rise castle (above) that would have embarrassed Walt Disney. Coddling childhood fantasies is fine, but Las Vegas architecture is at its worst when it delves into adult fantasies, trying to be something it's not. All the Eiffel towers in the world are not going to bring Paris to the Nevada desert. Leave Venice in Italy. Luxor should remain in Egypt. Hollywood should be left...okay, there's little sacred about Hollywood. MGM is okay. Unfortunately, these ridiculous attempts at adult make-believe include about three-fourths of the Vegas hotels and casinos.

The Wynn, probably my favorite example of Las Vegas at its best.
Las Vegas is at its best when its high-rise hotels and sleek casinos look and feel like what they are--21st-century masses of soaring glass and steel. The Wynn (above, and its recently added spawn, the Encore) are excellent examples. The Wynn is said to be the most expensive building of any kind ever built--$2.7 BILLION (half of that likely for air conditioning). In contrast, the nearby Bellagio (fountains and all) cost a measly $1.6 billion. I can't say much for the hotel, but the fountains are nice, as is its art gallery. The older, but well-kept, Mirage (below), with its dual towers, featuring their crowning murals along with  its domed tropical garden is a close second to the Wynn insofar as tasteful, charming, and most of all, restful opulence is concerned.

The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas rises like a crown jewel from the desert floor.
A restful respite on "The Strip."
The Mirage's domed tropical paradise.

Las Vegas City Hall.
I've raged on at some length about the worst offenders the city has to offer. Some of the better, more interesting, more creative works of the architect's art have nothing to do with hotels of gaming. In addition to the Wynn and the Mirage mentioned above, Las Vegas' city hall is quite attractive, even somewhat daring, walking the fine line between postmodern refinement and Las Vegas glitz. And speaking of creative daring, the world-renown Frank Gehry has an almost whimsical work that suggests his building may have warped and almost melted in the hot desert sun--the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health operated by the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
No one can accuse architect, Frank Gehry, of not having a sense of humor.
As is often the case with Gehry's designs, the Ruvo Center looks better from the inside.
Las Vegas architecture has come a long way since the early 1950s when air-conditioning
made it all possible. At least the city remembers its roots, as "kitschy" as they may be.


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