Desert View rendering

Modernism on the Rise: Las Vegas Design Finds its Stride

Local architect Brett Robillard digs into the landscape of local home and design in our series, Desert Blueprint.

Rebounding from the recession, custom homes in Las Vegas are now pushing the boundaries of modernist design, providing opportunities for local architects to define a unique identity for Southern Nevada living.

With developments such as Ascaya and The Summit leading the high end, others have taken notice as more contemporary architecture finds its way into production homebuilding as well as multi-unit residential. This begs the question: Has Las Vegas finally discovered its own contemporary design aesthetic? I believe it has. We are seeing more exploration in terms of materials and architectural form—as they relate directly to our climate and locale.

It is often difficult to pinpoint the beginning of any distinct movement in design. Compared to other art forms, architectural trends can be painfully slow to materialize. But we are surely at a new threshold for developments around the Valley. Las Vegas has grown in incredible bursts over the last few decades and we are in another distinctive period of growth at the present time. Housing stats are up, and projects at all scales are underway. RCG Economics predicts Las Vegas to have the nation’s third highest job growth through 2020. And as professional sports teams enter the Valley, enthusiasm for larger projects on and around the Strip, such as the new Raiders Stadium, T-Mobile Arena and the recent sale of the Fontainebleau, there is a growing array of opportunities for local architects.

Historically, these opportunities came laden with intense directives to continue and even expand on the bombastic decor that ultimately has become a thorn in the side of many architects working locally. While the annual 40 million–plus tourists have sought out the escapism that the architecture of the Strip provides, this has often overshadowed the design aesthetic that is more carefully tailored to the Mojave desert and influences outside the hospitality-driven engine that is the Strip.

During these periods of growth, the city is supported by continued expansion of housing developments throughout the Valley. These densely constructed residential enclaves perpetuated a bland, bizarre fusion of styles. A look around the Valley’s expansion over the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s shows thousands of replicated terra-cotta roofs, beige-toned stucco and very few architecturally evocative developments. When I’ve given out-of-town colleagues, friends and family a tour around the city, many have commented on the housing stock looking like “barracks.” That certainly isn’t an impression that helps to offset some of the all too common preconceptions about our city and how we live here.

Elysian at the District

Just a decade out from the Great Recession, housing seems to be taking a new direction, one that not only has visual cues of a new attitude toward design aesthetics, density and community, but also one that begins to target more specific markets. From the expanding millennial influence on the rental market to the rebounding upper tier of wealth and second-home owners, new developments in Las Vegas have seen very encouraging shifts toward diversity, fueled by a widening palette of design exploration. We are seeing mid-rise developments such as Elysian, the revived Vantage Lofts and projects on East Fremont Street take on a decidedly more modern aesthetic—opting for less “desert bland” and finding ways to embrace form, color and materiality that have largely been absent from the city.

Parallel to the rebounding multifamily projects, several large-scale developments have emerged to cater to a growing demand for custom home sites. While areas like Anthem and Red Rock Country club have been well-established for years, communities such as the aforementioned Ascaya and Summit as well as new areas within MacDonald Highlands offer a range of opportunities for architects to innovate.

Private homes always offer a chance to create something special. These projects are customized to the client, and their sites afford the designers more flexibility to embrace the desert climate and lifestyle nuances of the homeowners. Surely, these residences often have the benefit of a more relaxed budget and more land to explore ideas, but they also serve as an important opportunity for designers to push boundaries. With a growing collection of amazing homes, new projects across the Valley are raising the bar for what it means to be “modern” in Las Vegas, sourcing inspiration from the desert climate and catering to the lifestyles people seek here in the Valley.

These developments are offering us a rare chance to witness what could be a watershed moment in architectural design, one that has embraced the influences of the unique qualities of Las Vegas as a city the world knows, paired with the city we, as residents, appreciate: the beautiful serenity of the desert climate and the contrast between the glimmering vein in the heart of the city and the quiet, low-scale expanse around it.  

Architect Brett Robillard is the founder and design director of Atlas, an architecture studio located in Downtown Las Vegas’ Arts District. In this series, Desert Blueprint, he focuses on the trends and trajectory of the local housing market.