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December 29, 2009

Las Vegas High-Rising

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

CityCenter from across Bellagio pool

The huge Las Vegas project CenterCity began opening a few days after I left town in late November. (My timing is always bad: the Wynn and Palazzo hotel-casinos also opened not long after previous visits.) But David Littlejohn, a west coast Wall Street Journal stringer was there in its early days and reported his reactions here. Unfortunately for me, Littlejohn's architectural tastes and mine aren't in synch. For example, he liked the Rem Koolhaas Seattle Public Library main branch building, a structure I consider a disaster in nearly every respect.

One feature of CityCenter is that a group of starchitects was hired to do design duties, presumably in the high hope that the result would be a triumphal jewel in the crown of American artistic civilization. Unfortunately, I found CenterCity (or what I could see of it from outside construction barriers) to be a resounding modernist/postmodern banality, hardly in keeping with the wild, showy Las Vegas spirit.

Below are a few of my snapshots.

Claes Oldenburg giant eraser in its wrappings

This is the third eraser I've stumbled across: one was encountered in Seattle, another on the Mall in Washington, DC. Note the passenger train car in the background, part of an inter-casino line.


Since I couldn't enter the project, I'm not sure what this building is. But it's mostly an example of the "honest" modernism I was lectured about in my architectural history class in college. What you see is essentially a rectangular shaft, slightly beveled near the top, with a modest cap. The "decoration" or visual interest is provided by endlessly repeated balcony bands. I do not know what starchitect was responsible for this aesthetic marvel.

Paris casino and hotel

Up the street is this example of the "dishonest" architecture I was taught to despise. In Vegas one has to suffer from this sort of stuff. If Frank Gehry were dead, he'd be rolling in his grave at the though of such architecture.

Veer Towers by Helmut Jahn

That Jahn team sure must be a bunch of wild and craaazy guys! Man, do they have the LV spirit. Formula: start with a rectangular shaft (see above), toss in some cantilevering and surface color changes, and you have postmodernism for the Strip, right?

Sadly, I probably won't be back to Vegas until next fall, so my evaluation of CityCenter interiors will have to wait. And perhaps by then the reaction of the Las Vegas-going public to CenterCity will have become more clear.



posted by Donald at December 29, 2009


Unless I am mistaken the building you can't identify is not part of City Center. I think it's the Cosmopolitan Hotel which sits between City Center and the Bellagio, scheduled to open some time this quarter.

If you go to (skip the intro, then click "explore the city") you'll get a good idea of the net effect of everything.

It's clear that the contemporary formula for beauty in buildings is angles first with curves as mere accents. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also contemporary conception of beauty in women.

Posted by: dzot on December 29, 2009 9:43 PM

dzot -- Appreciate the input. Lord knows I've been looking at web sites related to CCity and that building doesn't appear. I could have used Vdara or some other building as an example, but my pix of those weren't so good. But it doesn't affect my thinking about the project and the folly of hiring a bunch of starchitects in the expectation that the results would be great, rather than banal.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 29, 2009 10:08 PM

If you think these structures are over the top on the outside, you should see them on the inside. Las Vegas is a convenient place for us to fly to in order to drive over to the Owens Valley and the Sierras. Other than that, it's just a stopover place. We swore we would simply get in our hotel room and just order food in rather than venture outside next time. After a wilderness trip, it's just too much culture schlock.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 30, 2009 9:16 PM

I worked as a plumbing engineer with archtects doing commercial buildings. I think your "art review" by looking at exteriors missing 90% of the joy and skill and importance of designing a functional building.

Posted by: TCO on January 1, 2010 9:57 PM

TCO -- Undoubtedly. But the primary concern at 2Blowhards is aesthetic.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 2, 2010 9:32 AM

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