Currently Reading

CityCenter Takes Experience Design To New Heights

CityCenter Takes Experience Design To New Heights

By By Jay W. Schneider, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200808 issue of BD+C.
The $9.2 billion CityCenter complex in Las Vegas is the nation’s largest privately funded development. Key: A. Mandarin Oriental (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates); B. Veer (Murphy/Jahn Architects); C. Crystals (Studio Daniel Libeskind); D. The Harmon (Foster + Partners); E. People mover (Gensler); F. Vdara (Rafael Viñoly Architects); G. Aria (Pelli Clarke Pelli); H. Convention Center (Pelli Clarke Pelli); I. Cirque du Soleil theater (Pelli Clarke Pelli).

It's early June, in Las Vegas, which means it's very hot, and I am coming to the end of a hardhat tour of the $9.2 billion CityCenter development, a tour that began in the air-conditioned comfort of the project's immense sales center just off the famed Las Vegas Strip and ended on a rooftop overlooking the largest privately funded development in the U.S. and one of the largest construction projects in the world.

Only from such a height can you take in the enormity of this 18.6 million-sf mixed-use project. The statistics are staggering: a massive joint venture
Significant progress is being made on the huge 18.6 million-sf, 76-acre CityCenter project, as evidenced in this aerial view of the construction site in late May 2008. Developers anticipate a late 2009 completion date.
between MGM Mirage and Dubai World that incorporates a casino, four hotels, condominiums, retail, entertainment, and a convention center on 76 acres in the very heart of Las Vegas. Building designs from the studios of such architectural demigods as Lord Norman Foster, Helmut Jahn, Daniel Libeskind, Cesar Pelli, and Rafael Viñoly. Twelve thousand people eventually to be employed in the complex; as many as 12,000 to be housed there as condo owners or hotel guests. A 24/7 construction schedule that puts it on target to meet a 2009 completion date. With the exception of the casino, the entire project is targeting LEED Silver.
It goes without saying that looking at the scale model of the project in the sales office just doesn't do justice to CityCenter.

Thus I find myself atop the Bellagio Hotel parking garage, chatting with several architects from the Las Vegas office of San Francisco-based Gensler, the project's master architect. The newly constructed garage borders CityCenter and offers a bird's-eye view into the heart of the project, and it is from this vantage point that I begin to appreciate just how different CityCenter is from anything ever built in Las Vegas.
More BD+C coverage of the CityCenter project:
The Gateway: Welcome to the Neighborhood—The Mandarin Oriental, Veer, Crystals, and The Harmon
Place Your Bets: The Casino/Hotel Experience—Aria and Vdara
Immediately noticeable is the urban context that MGM Mirage planned for, roughly three times the density per acre of any other Las Vegas project—multiple high-rises that create verticality where most Las Vegas construction focuses on the horizontal, and thruways (including the extension of Harmon Avenue) and boulevards where most other developments have driveways. It feels like a separate city within the city of Las Vegas.
Apparently my response to the project is not unique. “People don't really understand it or feel it until they walk through it,” says Sven Van Assche, VP of MGM Design Group. “It's experiential, the progression of taking yourself through the project, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, from experience to experience,” he says. “We are doing something so different from what we've done before, something outside our own box.”

Van Assche acknowledges how a project of this scale could easily become intimidating and overwhelming, emotions at odds with MGM Mirage's core business of providing hospitality. He worked with New York-based Ehrenkrantz Eckstut and Kuhn Architects to create a master plan that broke down the project's scale into three neighborhoods with the unpoetic titles Blocks A, B, and C. The goal, according to Van Assche: “to make being in CityCenter a more inviting, comfortable, and welcoming experience for the customer.”

The concept of neighborhood reinforces CityCenter's urban aspirations. Van Assche, sounding very much like a disciple of Jane Jacobs, says that a walk around a city like New York produces multiple experiences that come from encountering diverse building types—stores, restaurants, hotels, housing, entertainment venues—with surprises around every corner. “What makes great cities so much fun is their diversity and energy,” says Van Assche. “We're trying to create that energy.”

Creating a real-city vibe through a diverse product mix led Van Assche to seek out world-class architects who hadn't previously worked in Las Vegas, each of whom could all add something new and exciting to the mix.

Van Assche says he sought designers with global reputations and the ability to work as a cohesive team. “It was about finding the most creative architects who could fit the vision we were trying to achieve,” he says. “They've been successful in doing enormously creative work around the world, and they've done so in an architectural vernacular we were interested in ourselves,” says Van Assche.

Before anyone signed on, however, Van Assche made sure they checked their egos at the airport. “They had to be interested in being part of a project where it wasn't all about them,” he says. “They needed to understand how intimately we were going to integrate these buildings with one another, and that they would have to collaborate with people who are normally their competitors.” The bottom line: “The synergy had to be positive.”

A two-month-long design review helped sort out the assignments: Pelli Clark Pelli was awarded the Aria hotel, casino, convention center, and Cirque du Soleil theatre; Rafael Viñoly Architects, the Vdara condo hotel; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the Mandarin Oriental; Murphy/Jahn, the Veer condominium towers; Foster + Partners, The Harmon hotel and residential tower; and Studio Daniel Libeskind, Crystals retail complex.

Each firm was granted significant autonomy over their respective projects as long as they worked within the contemporary aesthetic that MGM Mirage wanted. “The architects all created buildings that are very unique unto themselves, but they did it all using the same ingredients,” says Van Assche.

Related Stories

Smart Buildings | Jul 1, 2024

GSA to invest $80 million on smart building technologies at federal properties

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) will invest $80 million from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into smart building technologies within 560 federal buildings. GSA intends to enhance operations through granular controls, expand available reporting with more advanced metering sources, and optimize the operator experience.

ProConnect Events | Apr 23, 2024

5 more ProConnect events scheduled for 2024, including all-new 'AEC Giants'

SGC Horizon present 7 ProConnect events in 2024.

75 Top Building Products | Apr 22, 2024

Enter today! BD+C's 75 Top Building Products for 2024

BD+C editors are now accepting submissions for the annual 75 Top Building Products awards. The winners will be featured in the November/December 2024 issue of Building Design+Construction. 

Products and Materials | Mar 31, 2024

Top building products for March 2024

BD+C Editors break down March's top 15 building products, from multifamily-focused electronic locks to recyclable plastic panels.

Products and Materials | Jan 31, 2024

Top building products for January 2024

BD+C Editors break down January's top 15 building products, from SloanStone Quartz Molded Sinks to InvisiWrap SA housewrap.

Concrete | Jan 12, 2024

Sustainable concrete reduces carbon emissions by at least 30%

Designed by Holcim, a building materials supplier, ECOPact offers a sustainable concrete alternative that not only meets, but exceeds the properties of standard concrete.

Products and Materials | Dec 28, 2023

Top building products for December 2023

BD+C Editors break down 15 of the top building products this month, from carbon-neutral mortars to innovative adhesives.

75 Top Building Products | Dec 13, 2023

75 top building products for 2023

From a bladeless rooftop wind energy system, to a troffer light fixture with built-in continuous visible light disinfection, innovation is plentiful in Building Design+Construction's annual 75 Top Products report. 

Building Materials | Oct 19, 2023

New white papers offer best choices in drywall, flooring, and insulation for embodied carbon and health impacts

“Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Insulation” and “Embodied Carbon and Material Health in Gypsum Drywall and Flooring,” by architecture and design firm Perkins&Will in partnership with the Healthy Building Network, advise on how to select the best low-carbon products with the least impact on human health.


More In Category


Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021