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The Gateway: Welcome to the Neighborhood

The Gateway: Welcome to the Neighborhood

The Mandarin Oriental, Veer, Crystals, and The Harmon

By By Jay W. Schneider, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200808 issue of BD+C.

The buildings in Block C serve as the gateway to CityCenter. This “neighborhood” runs parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard—the Strip—and is considered CityCenter’s front door. It’s the first neighborhood passersby and visitors encounter.

CityCenter’s entry boulevard (which is as wide as Park Avenue in New York City) leads to the Pelli Clark Pelli Aria complex, but not before passing the KPF-designed Mandarin Oriental hotel and condo tower on the left, and the Murphy/Jahn-designed Veer condominium towers on the right. Pedestrians entering CityCenter are most likely to first encounter the Daniel Libeskind-designed glass and metal Crystals retail complex, with its jagged, crystalline shapes and forms, as the project’s gateway.

The more subdued Mandarin Oriental, with its façade of glass and vertical interlocking aluminum panels, includes about 400 five-star guest rooms and 227 ultra-luxury residences (which sold out in 30 days) in slightly more than one million sf. The Mandarin Oriental does not carry the MGM Mirage brand—a situation created by customer demand. According to JF Finn, III, AIA, principal-in-charge of the CityCenter project for Gensler, a “black book of VIP clients” told Mandarin Oriental management that the chain had to be represented at CityCenter. Kay Lang + Associates and Paige & Steele Interior Architects handled the building’s Asian-inspired interiors.

Across the boulevard stand—or lean—the Veer towers. Murphy/Jahn designed the twin 37-story residential towers with a five-degree-from-center slope; the locals have nicknamed them the “Drunken Towers.” Each high-rise has about 337 European-influenced studio and one- and two-bedroom condominiums ranging from 500 sf to 3,500 sf; the interior aesthetic by Dianna Wong Architecture & Interior Design reflects the exterior’s contemporary glass façade.

At 500,000 sf of retail space, the Studio Daniel Libeskind-penned Crystals shopping complex is designed to be monumental and majestic with no resemblance to a traditional shopping mall. “The business model of a retail mall is very successful worldwide, but we didn’t want to create another mall,” says MGM Design Group’s Sven Van Assche. “We wanted an iconic piece of architecture that reflects what CityCenter can be: a series of experiences.”

Van Assche expands on this point: “We didn’t look at the retail component as a singular element or a simple mall, but one that intimately integrated with all the other products. As in an urban setting, there should always be something new.”

Contributing to the retail experience is the Rockwell Group, which handled Crystals interiors. Crystals’ roof is free of mechanical equipment, as are all the low roofs within CityCenter, for the benefit of occupants looking down from their condo or hotel rooms.

The Harmon, clad in seven different shades of blue and silver glazing, is the creation of Foster + Partners, with Munge Leung Design Associates on the contemporary interiors. The multicolored façade will display a different pattern every night, depending on which lights are turned on.

The Harmon’s original plan called for an equal mix of hotel rooms and residences, about 400 of each. However, buyers kept asking for bigger units, so the mostly one- and two-bedroom residences were enlarged—they now range from 1,000 sf to 3,700 sf—and their total number was decreased to just over 200.

Silver Lining for a Green Giant
Even before construction started on CityCenter, the massive casino/hotel mixed-use project in Las Vegas, sustainability was the watchword. In May 2006, when the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino was torn down to make room for the 76-acre project, the furniture was auctioned off, equipment was salvaged and donated, and 80% of the demolition waste was diverted from landfill.

San Francisco-based Gensler came on board as master architect in December 2004, and Nellie Reid, Gensler’s director of sustainable design, made the case for MGM Mirage to pursue LEED. When they saw the energy and water savings alone that could be achieved from sustainable design, MGM Mirage management committed to LEED Silver certification for the $9.2 billion project.

Two years ago, MGM Mirage Design Group created a corporate environmental division that was committed to making “the city of tomorrow” sustainable. Members of its new Energy and Environmental Services Division traveled the world to visit green projects and interview sustainability experts.

MGM Mirage partnered with the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading environmental think tank, to measure their environmental footprint and develop a sustainability strategy that could work not only for CityCenter but also for 17 other properties, including Bellagio, Excalibur, and Treasure Island. “Early on, we focused on what the goals would be to decrease the company’s environmental impact, and we marched toward those goals,” says Cindy Ortega, MGM Mirage’s SVP of energy and environmental services.

Ortega made it clear she didn’t want window-dressing or just the so-called low-hanging fruit. “We wanted to avoid unleashing all of our forces on the visual components without really understanding how they fit into the company’s sustainability strategy,” she says. Environmental efforts were divided into five categories: conservation of natural resources, notably water, electricity, and gas; sustainable construction; efficient waste management; sustainable building products; and environmental awareness.

With this framework in mind, Gensler put together a team of eight architects and 40 interior designers to guide CityCenter toward LEED certification. Reid served as sustainability coordinator between the client, the various architectural firms designing the signature buildings, the architects’ own LEED consultants, numerous other Building Team consultants, and Tishman Construction Company, the executive construction manager. Tishman worked with the general contractor, Perini Building Company, to track all the materials and make sure they complied with LEED criteria. CTG Energetics was also brought in as executive LEED consultant to compile the LEED documentation.

Weekly meetings were held to coordinate sustainability strategies. Ortega says the sessions helped minimize the number of change orders in the project because everyone was sharing success stories and leveraging best sustainable building practices over all the properties.

Perhaps the most significant sustainable design strategy was the decision to co-generate heat and power on site at a 9MW central energy plant. The $100 million facility will generate 10% of the project’s electricity, while its waste heat will be used to heat water for the thousands of bathrooms throughout the project. “We’re essentially running a free hot water loop through the entire project,” Reid says. “So that has significant energy savings.”

A lot of thought went into the building envelopes, too. Energy-saving glazing was used, and some of the towers also feature exterior sunshades that help block direct sunlight. The sustainability team conducted sun-and-shadow studies to determine the proper greening strategy for the towers and the parking structures, which replaced the sea of surface parking lots that once occupied the site. They found that the towers would cast shadows on the parking structure roofs, so that eliminated the possibility of putting solar panels there.

They also decided against vegetated roofs, which would have required extensive irrigation, opting instead for cool roofs that reduce heat island effect without the need for water. Reid says this was an unavoidable compromise: “You can’t just say one size fits all in terms of green building strategies.”

In some cases, the team had to invent solutions. At the start of the project, for example, no company in Las Vegas had the capacity to handle the amount of waste that CityCenter would generate. MGM Mirage worked out a contract with a local waste management company to enable the hauler to buy more trucks to handle the project’s anticipated waste load.

One sustainability issue proved intractable, however. While CityCenter is the first casino project to pursue LEED certification, the 300,000-sf gaming floor itself will not be LEED certified because smoking will be permitted. “In Nevada, it’s just something you can’t get around,” says Reid.

Seeking LEED Silver was something of a crap shoot, Ortega admits. “To take a project with such a constrained budget and timeline and pursue LEED Silver certification was a big risk for us,” she says. “But we’ve created a framework for managing the environmental aspects of the project that we continue to refine and improve as we build more projects.

“Those are the kinds of things that can stop a project from being environmentally responsible,” says Ortega. “But we know that our customers of the future will view sustainability as an attribute of the project.” — Lenora Jane Estes, Editorial Intern
Green Features at CityCenter
• $100 million, 9MW central heat and power co-generation plant—provides 10% of electricity

• Highly efficient irrigation systems—60% water savings for landscaping

• Low-flow faucets and shower fixtures, low-flush toilets—saves 30-40% of building water use annually

• Low-e glass on windows

• Hotel rooms shaded from direct sunlight with “air brows”

• Cool roofs to reduce heat island effect

• High-efficiency lighting in garages

• Recycled, nontoxic building materials

• Minimum 50% FSC-certified wood products

• Daylighting at hotels; glass facade in convention center; skylights in casino

• Automated people mover between Bellagio and Monte Carlo

• Displacement ventilation in casino

• Hotel rooms sealed to prevent migration of tobacco smoke

• Native and adapted drought-tolerant plants
Sustainable Operations
• Recycling of glass, paper, food waste, grease, etc.

• Preferred parking for guests driving alternative fuel vehicles

• Negatively pressurized areas where chemical use occurs

• Green cleaning practices

• Uniforms for convention-area staff made from recycled polyester

• Directional signs made of recycled metal or reclaimed wood
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