When the Wynn Resort replaced the Stardust Casino Hotel on the Strip in April 2005, longtime Las Vegas observers asked, “Where's the theme?” Magnate Steve Wynn replied that his resort didn't need a theme—he was selling an “experience”: the finest amenities in his hotel suites, beautiful gardens everywhere, a mall with high-end shops like Cartier and a Ferrari dealership, and a Broadway-quality theater in his sprawling casino.
Experiential design has been a key component in nearly every new Vegas project since, including the Fashion Show Mall directly across the strip from the Wynn and the Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood (the former Aladdin) on the south end of the Strip.
But the new standard of Vegas experiential design being set by MGM Mirage's CityCenter takes Steve Wynn's concept even further with the 61-story Aria Hotel Casino, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and currently under construction between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts. MGM Mirage owns 11 casino hotels in Las Vegas and 24 worldwide, and is the second-largest gaming company in the world.
The anchor of CityCenter's ignobly named Block A, Aria's two curvilinear glass towers will house 4,004 rooms (including 568 suites) totaling four million sf. At their base will be a 165,000-sf casino and a three-story lobby replete with lush foliage and wood and stone accents. Within the reception area, Maya Lin, the brilliant artist behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has designed a 133-foot-long silver cast of the Colorado River, her first work to be displayed in Las Vegas. Lin is incorporating reclaimed silver in the sculpture to highlight CityCenter's commitment to sustainability and Nevada's nickname, the Silver State.
At the north entrance, artist Jenny Holzer is fashioning a 250-foot LED sign to welcome visitors to the hotel. In the resort's 2,000-seat theater, Cirque du Soleil has partnered with CKX subsidiary Elvis Presley Enterprises to create a permanent production celebrating the music of The King.
All rooms and suites will have floor-to-ceiling windows and corner-window views—believe it or not, a first for Las Vegas—and will incorporate integrated technologies never before used in the hospitality industry, such as floor-to-ceiling low-e glass windows in Aria, scoffing at the belief that a casino shouldn't have windows. Corridors will allow in natural light through areas of enclosed glass, allowing for city and mountain views.
“If it's themed at all it's themed toward great architecture and design,” said Sven Van Assche, director of design for MGM Mirage and CityCenter. “What makes great cities like Vegas a destination is the diversity of people and things someone sees visiting and inhabiting them. We wanted to create that energy in all the experiences visitors will have. One of the main threads we had to keep in mind was the elegance and cleanliness of Japanese architecture. It's very elegant but it also shows a great respect for natural materials, and that shows in the design of all the buildings in CityCenter.”
The main attraction in Block B is the Vdara luxury condo/hotel, designed by Raphael Viñoly, with Leo A Daly as architect of record. The 57-story tower stands between the Bellagio and Aria atop a massive porte cochere that separates Vdara from the hustle and bustle of Aria's 24-hour casino. The porte cochere also creates a podium for Vdara's pool and spa, an amenity that MGM insists will add to the high-end experience for its residents and guests.
The building has an overlapping crescent design that resonates with the circular themes established by Harmon Circle (the street it sits on) and Aria's curving Y-shaped design. With 1,543 condo-hotel units, Vdara will have studios of about 500 sf up to multilevel penthouses of up to 2,200 sf. Its design follows another Las Vegas trend, the luxury condo-hotel, with all the amenities of a resort casino—spa, huge pool, conference and meeting facilities, etc.—without the casino.
The guest experience in Vdara's lobby is enhanced by one of artist Frank Stella's most prominent works. “Damascus Gate Variation I,” created in 1969, is a resin sculpture that features a design of interlaced semicircles that is similar to the crescent-shaped design of the tower itself. “Damascus Gate Variation I” will hang behind the reception desk.
“The design separates the casino property from the luxury hotel/condo building,” said JF Finn, III, AIA, principal-in-charge of the CityCenter project for executive architect Gensler. “Vdara is for the guests and residents that want a more relaxed experience, yet they're still close enough to the other properties to shop or catch a show or do any of those things.”
Although CityCenter is a city-within-a-city with its own fire station and power plant, all of its properties will be linked by a Gensler-designed people-mover system that will join the four corners of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue. Finn also oversaw construction of the Las Vegas Monorail expansion in 2004 and said that the sheer size and scope of CityCenter makes it “much more difficult from a logistic standpoint.”
“That was a municipal project that even at $650 million is nowhere near the scale and scope of CityCenter,” he said. “Here, there are a number of different housing products and there are really five different architectural designs. The transportation system we're doing for CityCenter is just a small piece of that whole.”
This level of complexity extended to all the projects in CityCenter, according to MGM Design Group's Sven Van Assche. “All of the architects that designed a tower had to achieve the same LEED rating (Silver) using the same curtain wall system and materials, tinted glass, reflective glass, or sun shading,” he says. “Yet they still needed to each have their own style.”
That design vocabulary is evident in the mirrored, blue low-e glass exterior of Aria and Vdara's crescent-shaped, darker skin of patterned glass. They are similar but distinctively different interpretations of the new Las Vegas experience.