Standing in the middle of the new CityCenter, Las Vegas, I realized I did not get it. I could not understand why MGM Mirage built this Dubai-scaled, $8.5 billion, celebrity-architect mega-development, dumping a casino and 6,000 unwanted hotel rooms on Las Vegas.
"If you build it, they will come," a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams. In CityCenter's case, that's not guaranteed. And this is no cornfield in Iowa.
CityCenter, as its name implies, is a downtown unto itself: 67 acres, 3 miles in circumference. The place has generated its share of controversies, about which you can read elsewhere. It is wedged into a plot along the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo, to which it is connected by a private monorail — all three properties are owned by MGM Mirage. CityCenter was master-planned by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut, and Kuhn, and has four hotels designed by name-brand architectural practices (Cesar Pelli, Rafael Vinoly, Norman Foster, KPF), a pair of condo towers (by Murphy/Jahn), and a full-blown work of starchitecture (a shopping mall by Daniel Libeskind).
Its conceits are several:
· It is the first and only “green” complex on the Strip (judging from the unpleasant odor that wafted through the buildings, I swear they are using sewage to grow vegetables).
· It is a diversified entertainment complex in which gambling will not be the primary revenue source. Shure. A note on Las Vegas nomenclature: It’s gaming, not gambling. Gambling is a foolish activity that can only end in tears. Gaming is harmless entertainment. Let’s keep them straight.
· It is relentles and unapologetic modern.
One has to walk outdoors to travel between the buildings within CityCenter a strategy imposed on the architects to foster a sense of urbanity and to keep the place from feeling hermetic, unfortunately this idea is especially unpleasant in August, when it’s 118 degrees in the shade.
CityCenter is what you might call Post-Metaphor Las Vegas. Cosmetically, its buildings are not buildings from other places and times — Rome, Paris, New York, Venice, Medieval England. Which begs this question, at least for me: What’s the point of CityCenter if it’s just an upscale development in a mid-size American city?
I was given a tour of Crystals, CityCenter’s signature work of starchitecture (thank you Fred). A Libeskind minion tried his best to retroactively justify Libeskind’s idiosyncratic architectural language. “It’s a vortex drawing energy off the strip. It’s a lifelike spiral. Rocks. Fractals.” Please stop. Does it matter, anyway? From the outside, it’s dramatic and shiny. Inside, it’s disappointing. The folds and cuts so prominent on the exterior suggest intriguing, Piranesian spaces, but upon entering one finds a fairly straightforward mall with some wonky ceilings and skylights. Shadows are projected on blank walls where you’d think the skylights would throw their own patterns. This seems like a failing. If you need projections to create visual drama, why all the structural gymnastics? Materially rich and visually sumptuous installations by David Rockwell — a teak stairwell, a blobby wooden catwalk — clash uncomfortably with Libeskind’s angular white-walled avant-gardism. Sculptures by WET, the firm behind the Bellagio fountains, are underwhelming.
It does have its dramatic moments, especially from the outside. It makes, at least by Vegas standards, considerable effort to engage its neighbors and the street. I’ve heard it said that its entire purpose is to occupy the wives of high-stakes gamblers, but this doesn’t seem especially fair. With his silly glasses and funny accent, Libeskind has made something of a cartoon of himself, which is a shame. I wish he’d look back at his earlier work and quit it with the “spirals” and “vortexes” and “fractals.”
Is there a public space in Las Vegas without piped-in music? Not really, but there was a group playing that was not your usual girls with a tambourine…
“Beautiful, Vivacious, Energetic and Unique! These are just a few of the adjectives describing these talented gals. Phat Strad puts a modern spin on the old classics and a classical take on modern day pop hits. Schubert to Sting all on Stradivarius! Popular rock music arranged for string quartet, performed by an international cast of classically trained beautiful girls, playing futuristic electronic instruments, with an industrial strength techno drum groove. Wow! Unique, ultra-cool, slightly sexy, and danceable. Phat Strad is a powerful entertainment package with a wide range of appeal and endless possibilities for convention, nightclub, concert, discotheque or special event. Wireless mobility makes it possible for these girls to perform anywhere in any venue.“
Well, I bought a CD (supporting the sisterhood and all that jazz) but the arrangements are as inspiring as the building in which they were performed.
World’s ugliest buildings, predictable arrangements? You decide.
See you later, I hope, still trying to navigate out off the parking lot...