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Las Vegas


Inspired by Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi, and Steven Izenour’s analysis of the city in “Learning from Las Vegas”, WJW ventured to the Las Vegas strip and beyond in the Fall of 2016.

With ducks and decorated sheds in mind, we explored the modern and old strips, witnessed the urban and environmental revitalization efforts of the community, conversed with experts in the fields of cognitive health and wellbeing, and toured some of the greatest feats in natural and human-made land-forming.

Day 1

Big Bus Tour of the Strip

Our trip began with a double decker bus tour through the sunny Las Vegas strip. It helped us get our geographic bearings in a new city, and served as a pleasant reminder to stock up on sun screen and water bottles.

Zappos Campus and Downtown Project Tour

We were introduced to the lesser known but more historic downtown Las Vegas by an unlikely source – Zappos. The online shoe distributor moved here in 2013 and has invested substantially in the neighborhood to make it a more desirable place to live. Zappos’ art curator and local historian took us on a walking tour through the area, providing special insight into the architectural history of the neighborhood and how certain events and design interventions have led to its current expansion.

Downtown Container Park

Our tour ended at the Downtown Container Park, one of the results of Zappo’s investment in the neighborhood. We were able to cool down over drinks and dinner in one of the many restaurants and bars that make up this park constructed entirely out of shipping containers.

Day 2

Springs Preserve Tour

The firm opened the second day by traveling to Springs Preserve, a sprawling 180-acre complex owned and operated by the Las Vegas Water District. Their mission is to educate the population about the fragile resource that put their city on the map, as well as how we can continue to live and build in the desert in a more environmentally conscious manner. One of the project’s lead architects, Jeff Roberts, led our group on a tour through the facility, pointing out the unique design decisions his team faced as they strove to design as efficiently as possible in such an unforgiving environment.

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Tour

Continuing a trend from last year’s Toronto visit, the firm visited another design of Frank Gehry’s, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The building is part of a larger effort to revitalize an area northwest of the strip known as Symphony Park. The building itself is operated by the Cleveland Clinic and the Keep Memory Alive Organization. The center is a leading research facility exploring brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and innovations in treatment.

Conversation with Dr. Dylan Wint, MD, Denise LaBelle, PhD, MA, and Susan Farris

WJW met with three representatives of the Lou Ruvo Center to discuss the role of design in responding to brain diseases. We were able to describe some of our common strategies in designing environments for people with cognitive impairments, while the researchers were able to provide their input on design interventions that have improved the lives of their patients. The informative discussion left both parties eager to continue a dialogue between research and practice.

assemblageStudio Firm Tour

To end the day, we visited local design firm assemblageStudio. Founded by architect Eric Strain, the firm has an eclectic portfolio of work that spans from university design to fire stations. Their most recent projects have focused on high end residential work in the Las Vegas area. It was a great opportunity to compare and contrast the impacts of program, region, and culture have on our shared profession.

Day 3

Hoover Dam Tour

Our last day was spent exploring the outskirts of Las Vegas, with most of the group traveling to the nearby Hoover Dam. The group ventured on a guided tour 530 feet down into the dam to witness its inner workings and learn more about its construction. Self-guided exploration followed at street-level where we found stunning views of Lake Mead, the Colorado River, as well as the dam itself and its art-deco treatments.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

While the rest of the group ventured out to see one of the greatest man-made structures on the planet, David, Kelly and Will traveled in the other direction to visit a natural wonder of the world – Red Rock Canyon, a nationally protected conservation area just outside of Las Vegas. A private bike tour through the area introduced the trio to the geographic history of the region and some of the native plant and animal species that reside there.