In Las Vegas, the late 1980s saw the advent of the high-end, themed mega-resort, such as the Mirage and Excalibur, accompanied by a move toward Disneyfication, with gaming operators seeking to turn Sin City into a family destination. The 1990s brought refinement, high style, and fantastically conceived resorts and geographically themed properties such as the Bellagio, Paris, and the Venetian.
Today, as Las Vegas continues its phenomenal growth, the trend toward ever-larger and more authentically themed properties that exhibit a higher degree of detail in their design and construction has reached its pinnacle.
Authenticity is the new theme
Take, for example, the Venetian, with its Renaissance period styling. Opened in 1999, the Venetian raised the bar in authenticity to a thematic design. "The Venetian's detail has an architectural integrity that most of the other properties don't," says William McGee, a principal with Boston-based Stubbins Associates, whose Las Vegas office led the hotel design.
The resort also attempted to further the city's desire to be recognized for more than its Elvis impersonators and cheap buffets (the Venetian does not have one) by constructing, in true Vegas style, not one but two Guggenheim Museums. But the grandiose gesture has pretty much failed to attract visitors, as one recently closed.
McGee attributes the poor attendance at the Guggenhiem Las Vegas to its location at the rear of the resort. "With the Bellagio, the art was salon-like and lived in tandem with and borrowed from the Winter Garden," says McGee. "At the Venetian, it's a leap of faith that people will go to see the museum and pay money to do it." Those same patrons, however, have no qualms about plunking down $12.50 for a gondola ride through the resort's retail shops.
Infusing intimacy in mega resorts
Beyond these attempts at architectural integrity, the greater task before Las Vegas Building Teams is making the resorts bigger, yet still intimate. "As casinos have gotten larger and larger, they've become very impersonal," says Deruyter Butler, a principal with Las Vegas-based Butler/Ashworth LLC.
Butler/Ashworth is architect of record for La Rêve, a $2.5 billion, 5.2-million-sq.-ft. hotel/casino mega-complex whose design was inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso. It is being developed in partnership with Steve Wynn's Wynn Resorts, with Wilson Associates, Vancouver, Wash., as interior designer, and Dougall Design, Pasadena, Calif., as casino designer.
The project, which broke ground on the site of the former Desert Inn last October, includes a convention center, entertainment center, recreational areas, and retail facilities. It will open in 2005. "We've made great efforts to make La Rêve feel smaller and more intimate," Butler says.
La Rêve will establish the high end of the marketplace," says Stubbins's McGee. "Steve Wynn is going after the luxury mega-resort market. The trend is toward the high-end experience."
Properties on the Strip continue to expand, looking to draw gamblers in through larger retail spaces, movie theaters, and performing arts centers. This spring, Perini completed construction of Caesar's Palace's $95 million, 4,149-seat Colosseum, which has been designated the "permanent performance home" of singer Celine Dion. Perini is also at work on a 175,000-sq.-ft., three-level expansion to the property's Forum Shops.
Off-Strip, local casinos cashing in
The growth of the Strip's mega-resorts is spilling over onto off-Strip casinos, such as the Palms and Green Valley Ranch, which opened 2001.
These resorts were designed to compete with the Strip casinos, while other off-Strip casinos cater more to local residents.
In 2005, the Leo A. Daly-designed Sun Coast Casino will open in Las Vegas's fast-growing Summerlin residential community. A renovation of a successful local casino, the Sun Coast will expand to include new restaurants, movie theaters, and a 2,400-room hotel, says Francis Xavier Dumont, VP and managing principal of Daly's Las Vegas office.
New concepts in circulation
Whether on or off the Strip, everything in Las Vegas revolves around directing patrons through the casino on the way to their rooms, retail, and entertainment.
Access points to casinos, from outside entrances to elevator bank locations, are critical. "People play where they stay," says McGee. "Elevators are a huge energy source [of business] for the casino."
But the golden rule of casino circulation is being challenged. For conference attendees and other business travelers to Las Vegas who have no interest in gaming, hotels such as the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay have separate elevator banks for guests that bypass the casino.
Bernardo Fort-Brescia, principal at Miami-based hotel designer Arquitectonica, says his firm took a close look at circulation for the Golden Moon casino and hotel, Choctaw, Miss. They chose an elliptical shape for the casino, with the hotel wrapping around the ellipsis.
"Still, for certain casino patrons (we won't say who), privacy is the name of the game, and high rollers traditionally have been separated from the rest of the casino population. The thinking today is not to separate them too much, says Stubbins's McGee. "Today's casino is very much similar to a retail mall," he says. "Even though high rollers want their privacy, they also want to be seen. In gaming, people want to feel as if they are in the middle of it all."