The Las Vegas that most tourists know has all the substance and integrity of a hologram. The buildings are really there, but they are dressed up in costumes to promote the illusion of being somewhere else. You can sort of be in Renaissance Venice (with better plumbing) at the Venetian, sort of be in a funhouse Big Apple at New York, New York, sort of be in a Roman bacchanalia at Caesar′s Palace. Part of the fun, I guess, is that it′s all fake. One big, not-so-convincing fantasy after another.
And the illusion at the center of it all is the one that manages to convince even the most clear-sighted Las Vegas visitor: that the odds are in your favor.
CityCenter has not dispelled that particular illusion, but it is the first major Las Vegas urban development project that takes as its mission the construction of something authentic. CityCenter is designed not to be something other. It′s simply meant to be a top-notch, inventive, functional, and sustainable space. A space that is great in and of itself, without reference to 1920s Paris or imperial China.
This is not to say that its ambitions are modest. This project, which encompasses 76 acres off the Las Vegas Strip, is the largest privately funded construction project in the United States, at a cost of $9 billion. It′s got a hotel and casino (the Aria), two boutique hotels (Mandarin Oriental and Harmon), condominiums (Veer Towers), a condo/hotel (Vdara), and, at the center of the Center, a high-end retail and entertainment district called the Crystals. To design these buildings the developers (MGM Resorts International) hired the best of the best. Daniel Libeskind designed the Crystals; Pelli Clarke Pelli designed the Aria; the Harmon is by Norman Foster.
These are all, in other words, substantial works of art—and ecologically sensitive one as well: the Mandarin Oriental, Aria, and Vdara all received LEED certification in November 2009, for their use of green technologies such as a reclaimed water. And then there are the other works of art: the development contains one of the largest public art collections in the country, including works by Maya Lin, Henry Moore, and Frank Stella.
Las Vegas CityCenter took the idea of an authentic, sophisticated urban center, and it went all in.
The gamble, so far, it hasn′t exactly paid off. The unlucky streak may have started during construction tragedies in which six workers died. There was a strike over safety conditions. And then when the whole thing opened, it didn′t help that the housing market was at its nadir and the recession was depressing consumers and tourists. So those pricey condos weren′t exactly snapped up. And LEED-certified or not, it′s pretty much the opposite of conservation to build a hotel—the Harmon—and then have to demolish it because of structural issues.
So we are reminded once again—without even spending the evening at the slot machines—that the odds aren′t always in a gambler′s favor. But they′ve made such beautiful buildings on such a grand scale, it′s hard not to pull for them as the next hand is dealt.