Caveat: You’re asking someone who once dreamed of being an architect, but only got as far as sketching the space-age Landmark Casino tower to earn my architecture merit badge. While that alone might disqualify me from valuable critical insight, I certainly have my opinions.
Our relatively young Las Vegas went from tents to wooden boardwalks to mid-century modern and beyond on an accelerated timeline. Subsequently, many of the casually recognizable structures built during our history can be generally classified as “disposable”—and many of them have been disposed of. Thanks to our lack of weather, residences are mostly wood-framed and stucco slathered, or “sticks and mud” as a British counterpart once remarked. Casinos, for the most part, are big boxes adorned with elaborate facades hiding pedestrian, inexpensive architecture. Even in the modern era, most luxurious Strip spectacles remain gussied up with architectural foam, a sort of builder’s CGI that magically appears as chiseled stone arches, grand marble columns, or whatever the day’s theme calls for. It looks the part, but foam hardly reads as permanent. Still, even permanent structures, like the concrete-domed spaceship that was the Convention Center Rotunda, make way for the new.
The CityCenter complex, however, might be different. Opened in 2009 with a roster of significant architects behind its triumphantly urban design, CityCenter’s structures were perhaps the first on the Strip to be designed with an innate sense of place and permanence. As someone who defers from the oft-used “feels like it’s not in Vegas” phrase, it’s hard to avoid it with CityCenter. Sitting in the center of the complex, particularly at night, surrounded by towering masterpieces, is a truly transformative experience for someone raised on the Vegas vernacular.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
But it’s not all flash and fancy for me. My tastes run modern, so one of my favorite homes is the 1968 Marnell House on 15th Street in Downtown’s Mayfair neighborhood. Restored in 2014, the red brick house is hard to miss, with its cone shaped centerpiece feature and almost tiki-esque roofline. Another longtime fave is the Flora Dungan Humanities building at UNLV. Built in 1970, FDH is a seven-story pedestal perching on gently narrowing legs. It was designed by Walter Zick & Harris Sharp, who designed many notable modernist buildings still standing in Las Vegas, including the Nevada Savings & Loan headquarters (201 S Las Vegas Blvd, now a post office), the Mint (now part of Binion’s) and Union Plaza (née, the Plaza) casinos, the classic folded-roof Bank of America at Charleston and Decatur boulevards, the former rock-front Safeway in the Huntridge Plaza, and even my (admittedly unremarkable) junior high and high school, Hyde Park and E.W. Clark.