Beyond Buildings

 

Prepare for Hyper Drive

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Las Vegas has gotten bigger. Believe it or not, it has also gotten better. Despite the recession, which has hit this desert mirage built on junk bonds and junkets more than most places, it has managed to make one more of the periodic scale jumps it takes about once a decade. Sitting in my hotel room, looking out over grand glitz fading off into the slope of the Southwestern desert, I cannot help myself. I exult.

 

The latest building binge started with Steve Wynn’s eponymous hotel and its twin, the Encore, as well as with massive expansions to many of the by now old (i.e., more than a decade in operation) hotels, including the Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, and the MGM Grand. Most of what was built consisted of the usual blocks of GFRC-decorated piles that were as undifferentiated as the giant slabs of meat served in the fancy steakhouses proliferating inside these monstrosities. At least the Wynn is relatively modern and sleek. Now the real revolution in Las Vegas, CityCenter, is about to open.

 

Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas

 

CityCenter is enormous. Driving towards it from the East, it dwarfs what I once thought of as substantial, 30- to 40-story hotel monuments and turns them into little cottage inns. It is also all modern, as it consists of a collection of towers, slabs, and blocks in various modes of colored glass. Cesar Pelli did one of them, Helmut Jahn one, Norman Foster one (though his was lopped in half, they say because there was a mistake in the structural steel, but wags claim it was an economically expedient decision). Daniel Libeskind finally found his calling designing a 500,000-square-foot shopping mall whose jagged, metal-clad blocks mask the perfumed ambiance inside. My favorite touch is the way Louis Vuitton appropriated their slice of the façade by transforming the skin into a sea of metal “LV” monograms.

 

Louis Vuitton Las Vegas

Louis Vuitton Las Vegas

 

A million and a half square feet. Almost 5,000 hotel rooms and half as much again in condominiums—all of it in buildings more than 60 stories tall on 76 acres and at a cost of about $11 billion. The mind staggers, but then it always does when Las Vegas makes one of its scale jumps. What makes this one remarkable is that after the age of neon and its fading into corporate blandness, then the rise of the themed hotel (from Luxor and Excalibur to New York New York, Paris, Treasure Island, and the Venetian), the Strip has now entered into the realm of competitive city building, where it is trying to be a hybrid between New York and Dubai, but better. It will be as dense as Manhattan and as showy and desert-y as Dubai, but with that particular quality Las Vegas has of creating immense monoliths that stand against the abstract desert landscape, but open up to the most amorphous, most well-used, and most exciting public space anywhere in the world.

 

CityCenter

CityCenter

 

It is so big it changes your perception of where you all and—for the first time—looks almost big enough for this landscape. Of course, it might all come crashing down. And of course it is all an environmental disaster, not to mention the social costs of a vision built on gaming and other sins. But the sheer exultation of CityCenter, its peaks and curves and leaning towers gesturing like giant showgirls against the purple majesty of the mountain ridges, makes you believe in at least some form of temporary, terrifying, and terrifically exciting urbanism.

 

 
 

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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.