The Mouse That Roared
“We call it the 'Mouse that Roars,' says Brian Zamora, project architect for the new-fangled institute in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, of Gehry Partners design. Last weekend, the good, the grand, and the face-lifted gathered in an unlikely corner of the city to celebrate the opening of this small combination clinic and event center. The part that roars is the event space; the clinic itself is a stack of offices and treatment rooms sheltered behind the show-stopping, metal-clad exuberance of the Center’s public half.
Photos: Aaron Betsky
This is a strategy Gehry and his firm have used for decades: Make a splash with the most accessible and remarkable part of the building, and accentuate its shapes by contrast with a tight pack of more generic program elements. The office’s working method almost produces this result: staff analyze the program and site, build blocks representing the elements, stack them up on a site model, and then Gehry and his chief designers come and deform the results of reason, adding those elements that turn the act of translation into architecture.
Here the process fed neatly into a particular programmatic conceit: Larry Ruvo, Vegas’ largest liquor distributor (and you can imagine what that means in terms of resources) wanted to build a clinic to research and treat the kind of brain diseases that killed his father, but wanted a model that would make a small institute sustainable. Perhaps because of his background, he hit on the idea of creating a party space that would fill a niche in the market for small meetings and celebrations (bar mitzvahs, for instance) that in turn would produce revenue for the clinic.
The clinic, which is now being run by the Cleveland Clinic as a satellite, is itself innovative, as it combines all the activities for diagnosing and treating brain diseases in one place. Patients are seen by doctors on the second floor and taken down for imaging and other tests on the ground floor, and then go back to see the doctor in the same building. A third floor contains the offices for Ruvo’s non-profit. Gehry Partners angled and shifted the blocks to break up what would otherwise be long corridors, and let light into cracks, thus breaking the clinic’s mass up into a rhythm of white stucco walls and windows. It will someday face a major residential development to the north.
Sitting on former railroad yards between the horrendous bulk of the World Market Center building and the equally execrable Country Government building, the Lou Ruvo Center’s big roar is a stainless steel drape that cascades down the clinic stack, providing a stage-setlike façade to the large scale of the area. The façade curves down to become the roof of a breezeway, a sheltered outdoor space where a small café also serves neighborhood workers. There it is essentially a canopy over a welded steel structure. The steel drape then becomes a structural shell flowing down and out to form the shape of the event space.
That expanse billows out into the desert, sheltering a hall that curves in every direction. Without hierarchy, the event room is a space that moves and grooves all around. Windows follow every curve, creating a grid whose distortions the designer controlled with layers of coffers. Space spirals into corners before falling back down around you.
With none of the glitz that has become the Vegas cliché, this space offers the city a different kind of spectacle, a place where light and form create on oasis—and an attraction.