Beyond Buildings


The Mouse That Roared

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“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.


Ruvo Exterior
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.


Comments (12 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:44 PM Saturday, June 05, 2010

    Work like this gets exposure because uncritical journalists (Betsky, for example), pander to this. Sorry Betsky, but you bring this on yourself by failing to bring worthwhile criticism to the table. Sucking up to fashionable but worthless trends should not be confused with thoughtful and insightful journalism.

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  • Posted by: RPB | Time: 6:47 PM Friday, June 04, 2010

    I saw this metal heap from the freeway and just had to stop and see what it was. From a distance I could not tell if a 747 had crashed in the desert or if there had been a head-on collision of two highspeed trains. No - just another worthless pile of twisted Gerhyness. How appropriate that the building is a mental health / disease clinic. This was a perfect marriage of a mentally ill client and a mentally deficient architect. Had Aaron Betsky just checked into the clinic as a patient when he wrote his foolish article? If the answer is yes, then I hope the doctors found a cure for his illness. At the other end of town is the glowing example of spending insanity called City Center. In spite of many small examples of beautiful workmanship and creative artistry, this project will fail and destroy MGM in the process. The word on the street from the Vegas locals is "Sell your MGM stock now if it is not already too late". When the contractor files a $5B suit against the developer, you know there is a problem. There should be no shortage of new patients checking into the new mental disease clinic. I must admit it was enjoyable to stroll through the shopping area of City Center and to be able to take as many architectural photos as I wanted without needing to worry about people getting in the way.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:04 AM Thursday, June 03, 2010

    One sure way to get the architecture community riled up is to write something about the work of Frank Gehry . Ever since the days when he had the audacity to use chain-link fence and exposed plywood as building materials, critics (more than clients or

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:24 AM Tuesday, June 01, 2010

    so how does a guy get this exalted for putting out such yucky stuff?

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  • Posted by: WalterK01 | Time: 8:31 AM Tuesday, June 01, 2010

    The kings clothes are beautiful.......shheeesh. Somebody will eventually say that the King is just naked. When design and function are not in harmony, then you may end up with a ridiculous building.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 6:41 PM Sunday, May 30, 2010

    I'll bet my next paycheck that the crumpled car-wreck of a facade will leak like a sieve. Thanks goodness it doesn't rain that much in Vegas. Geez. What ever happened to good, responsible architecture?!?

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  • Posted by: American in Shanghai | Time: 3:07 AM Saturday, May 29, 2010

    The comment regarding Architecture as sculpture is interesting. This presumes Architecture should be sculpture. Sculpture would likely position its form over its capacity to perform the function intended (like a sculpted vase or pitcher with holes in it). Architecture can be sculptural...but it in itself is NOT sculpture.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:38 PM Friday, May 28, 2010

    Ay Vey!!!!!!!! Went to a Basmitzvah and came out "mishugana cup". What kind of architectural metal scrap is this? Do they have padded cells in convoluted shapes in there, soft and cushioned, I hope. "We are of to see the Wizard the Magical Wizard of Oz! "

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:08 PM Friday, May 28, 2010

    Without seeing the details or the spaces described in the article, it is hard to understand the building's features. But something Bi-Polar appears to going on here. The design reminds me of the stage set for Dr. Caligari's Cabinet. Let's hope that the patient's brains do not suffer any setback after visiting the building.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 12:24 PM Friday, May 28, 2010

    This is just Gehry gone mad. How will the most outlandish public portions of this property look 25 years from now? It may even be removed as a ridiculous relic of the past

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:55 AM Friday, May 28, 2010

    I can accept the idea of Architecture as sculpture, but one has to be a good sculptor first. Gehry's work is not good sculpture. This is reminiscent of the work done by Site in the past, which amounts to disneyesque tourist architecture. But at least James Wines had a sense of humor. Gehry actually takes himself seriously!

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:52 AM Friday, May 28, 2010

    "This is your brain on drugs" is more appropriate than "The mouse that roars."

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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.