In its architectural elegance and sheer scale, the 67-acre, seven-building CityCenter may have opened the door for 21st-century urbanism on the Strip, but its new neighbor, the slender Cosmopolitan, may prove to be the real model for urban development moving forward.
The Cosmo is all about connection. It connects inside to outside, works well in context with its neighbors, and finds an aesthetic golden mean between the forward-looking sophistication of CityCenter and the youthful indulgence of the Palms. Third-floor restaurants spill into a large space called the P3 Commons—a common area offering sofas and Wi-Fi that exists solely to let people mingle. The pizza shop where you can drop in for a slice has no sign—the idea is that perhaps you’ll simply stumble on it. The lobby space spills over into a slick bar called Vesper. An artist-in-residence program will enable visitors to watch a rotating group of artists at work in a studio. In its commitment to urbanist serendipity—the chance moments that link one human to the next—it may become Las Vegas’ first resort for the age of social media.
Designed by the veteran Miami firm Arquitectonica, the Cosmo consists of a rectangular base supporting two towers on a narrow, 8.7-acre lot. The western tower, at the rear, is a long and thin slab that bends twice along its length like an accordion. It’s sheathed in black and charcoal gray and accented with thin horizontal strips of light gray.
The east tower, a thin, square-like structure with wraparound balconies, is clean and delicate. The top-most floors are set back, which allows the tower to reach a subtly satisfying apex with a long sign perched at the top that is the perfect match of new-century style and classic big-city panache. The podium of the resort, which houses the casino and retail shops, reaches out to meet Las Vegas Boulevard and is clad on the front side with a series of undulating glass sheets. Collectively, they are reminiscent of a fan. The glass looks much better at night, its edges are lit up and resemble a landscape from Tron.
The advantages of the Cosmopolitan’s small, slim footprint go beyond the aesthetic. Parking, for one, is underground, eliminating the need for a clunky, real-estate-eating garage. The sleek valet and porte cochere are also tucked inside the building. It’s possible to take an elevator from your car straight up into the hotel—or even straight into the casino, which makes getting in and out of the place much easier.
The Cosmopolitan’s interior was crafted largely by the Friedmutter Group and by the ubiquitous design stars from the Rockwell Group, who also worked on CityCenter. There are two standout spaces. The lobby features columns with embedded LED screens that show a rotating collection of digital art—stacks of library books one moment, an austerely erotic fashion show the next. The lobby doesn’t attempt soaring, the high-ceilinged, glass-lit atrium that Vegas casinos do in every shade of gaudy, glitzy and occasionally elegant. This lobby is muted, mysterious, and it absolutely envelopes you.
At the other end of the building is the Cosmo’s real showstopper, a massive, three-story chandelier surrounding 10 smaller ones and featuring more than 2 million crystals. The grand chandelier cocoons a series of intimate bars on all three floors. A sweeping staircase curls around the side of the structure. It is over-the-top, but a better place for a drink or to begin an affair than the streamlined, airport-like spaces at CityCenter.
The Cosmo’s interior is an exuberant blur of colors, shapes and textures. You’ll probably need more than one visit to decide what it all adds up to, but it reminded me of a Kubrick movie. The Cosmopolitan has traces of the beautiful yet distant baroqueness of Barry Lyndon and the cool sci-fi rationalism of 2001 (especially in the lobby). There’s a kind of refined, high-class decadence on offer here.
The strengths of the Cosmopolitan, ultimately, are urban. The casino follows the lead of Steve Wynn and opens itself to light—the casino fronts Las Vegas Boulevard and enjoys ample sunlight. The Cosmo reaches right for the street in a way that none of the new generation of super resorts even dare to, opening up retail spaces and the Strip end of the casino to light and views from Las Vegas Boulevard. On the roof of the Cosmo’s podium, the pool looks out on the Strip below.
More so than anywhere else in the city, the energy of a casino and the energy of the street come into tantalizing contact with each other. And from the sleek Cosmopolitan balconies, one can imagine the flashbulbs popping across the north façade of the buildings every time the Fountains of Bellagio turn on.
Of course, the Cosmopolitan shares some of the weaknesses of the social media model, too—namely a sense of overabundance, a signal-to-noise ratio pitched decidedly toward the latter. The busy design makes me wish for a more unified, streamlined aesthetic. Perhaps not a cheesy theme, but the sense of visual consistency you get at Wynn or Bellagio—a feeling that the designers are giving us their best ideas, not all their ideas, that the splashes of eclectic design in the lounges and restaurants and clubs don’t detract from the unity of the whole.
Nevertheless, the more compressed urban form of the Cosmopolitan is the way forward. There are no long walks down impossibly vast concourses. The Cosmo wants you to find your way from here to there, and to engage the world as you go. The tightness of the floor plan will make for a bustling environment—proof, for a city looking for the next big thing, that bigger does not always mean better.