Las Vegas' most interesting cultural attraction is not on The Strip. It's the Neon Museum, which finally opened its new visitors center last weekend inside the lobby of the former La Concha Motel, a Googie masterpiece designed by Paul Williams. The Downtown Vegas museum, which opened in 1996, includes a boneyard containing over 150 neon signs from hotels, motels, roadside attractions, and businesses, dating back to the 1930s. Some of our favorites include the Atomic Age Stardust Hotel sign and a freestanding sign of a man known as the "Mullet Man." The museum has also installed some of its signs along Las Vegas Boulevard and on Fremont Street. More pix from the boneyard below.
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Have you ever gazed upon the New York skyline and thought to yourself, there's an amusement park missing from this picture. Have you ever dreamed of twirling around the top of New York’s fourth-tallest building while strapped into flimsy carnival swings? While it's certainly not for the faint of heart, these fantasies have been imagined, and now they've been rendered into a beautiful new video. In this quite impressive promotional video for Luna Park in Coney Island, Argentinean director and post-production wizard Fernando Livschitz has transformed Manhattan into a fantastical amusement park. Swings spin atop the Chrysler Building’s iconic art-deco spire, tilt-a-whirls whizz through Times Square and across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a roller coaster zooms around the Empire State Building. Utilizing tilt-shift photography, time lapse, and some wild after effects, Livshitz is a master of turning cities into funfairs. But if you're inclined to try out a sky-high amusement park in real life, you'll have to head over to Las Vegas, where a miniature funfair-in-the-sky sits atop the 1,149-foot-tall Stratosphere Tower, including the world's tallest amusement ride, a vertical descent called the Big Shot. Unfortunately, a roller coaster twisting around the top of the tower has since been removed, but we've included a video of the experience below for old times' sake.
It's official. Norman Foster's unfinished and beleaguered Harmon Building at Las Vegas' CityCenter is among the walking dead. Its owner MGM has announced its intention to implode the building, whose construction was plagued by incorrectly-installed rebar. These severe structural flaws led to a decision in 2009 to scrap the top half of the building, and it's been sitting unoccupied ever since. But what better way to send off what must be among the biggest buildings never occupied than a collection of the most spectacular implosions Las Vegas can muster? There are fireworks, spotlights, music, and lots of gawking onlookers. This stuff is fun, trust us. Before we get to the explosions, let's take a quick walk down memory lane with this video of CityCenter's original grand plan, including the full-scale Harmon. Now on to the implosions! Implosion of the Stardust Implosion of the Sands Implosion of the Aladdin Hotel Implosion of the Landmark Implosion of the Castaways Implosion of the Frontier And the grand finale Still can't get enough? We highly recommend checking out this article and this one too about some of the best-ever Vegas implosions.
Mapping Visage. Canadian artist Ingrid Dabringer has attracted attention for her unique map paintings, finding countenances in irregular land masses. The artist explained that she draws inspiration from large-scale topography and lines on detailed maps. Dabringer believes that maps hold meaning and by adding her own touches, she seeks a more personal interpretation within a traditional tool. More at Core77. In Situ Study. Recently on Building Design, third-year architecture student Jonathan Brown posed the following question, “Do architecture students today focus too heavily on design theory and practice and consequently, neglect construction skills that cannot be taught in a classroom?” Not alone in his query, the latest RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) “Part of the Picture” campaign permits graduates to credit three months of on-site experience toward their education. Now and then. Technology and the internet have transformed the way we preserve and promote history, particularly our photographs. Trendcentral highlighted three exciting websites: Historypin, where users can upload historic photos and search geo-tagged photos by time, period, and address; Dear Photograph posts reader-submitted photographs of historic photos in context; and the Flickr group, Looking into the Past, includes a diverse range of historic-current photo collages. Troubled Bridge over Water. Conservationists and architects have rejected the Venetian superintendent’s call to replace the historic Ponte del Accademia with a glass and steel substitute, reported Building Design. Although architects Schiavina of Bologna have incorporated an Istrian stone version of the iconic bridge’s gentle arch in their design, prominent art critic Francesco Bonami has dubbed the plans a “bad crash.” Plans remain on hold while the city seeks funding for the €6 million design.
Bikes First. To protect its cycling tradition and its bikers’ safety, Copenhagen continues to enhance its metropolitan bicycle system. StreetsBlog reports that 37 percent of the city's urban population bikes to and from work and school on the city’s extensive network of bicycle-only lanes, park paths, and renovated railway tracks. The public transportation system also supports bicycle-travel, while the city has slowly reduced the number of car lanes on streets and auto-routes. Pedestrians, Too. Chicago moves forward this week on its highly anticipated Pedestrian Plan – an attempt to remedy high levels of hit-and-run fatalities and create a safer walking environment. After the tragic death of Martha Gonzalez at the South Halsted Street intersection, the municipal government realized that further safety measures must be taken. According to the Tribune, the city will host eight public meetings throughout the summer to gather constituent input, the foundation of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s action plan. Construction Sand-Box. While excavating the foundation of his new home in Colorado, Ed Mumm was inspired to develop the Dig This project–a construction equipment playground for adolescents and adults. PSFK reveals that Munn’s second Dig This location recently launched in Las Vegas, where guests can operate a Caterpillar bulldozer or excavator after attending a 30-minute safety briefing. River Craft. BldgBlog brings news that the Dutch art group Observatorium finished Waiting for the River, a 125-foot-long habitable bridge, in 2010. The project is installed on the Emscher River wetlands, a sewer canal contained by dikes that will flood completely within 10 years. Observatorium invites people to wait for the river in the reclaimed-timber cabins; furnished with beds and plumbing.
Earthshaking Costs. The cost of an earthquake goes well beyond the financial, as the world witnessed with the disaster in Japan, but preventative measures do cost; Architizer cites a report by California Watch that warns of cost-cutting and corruption in the cash strapped state, boiling down the numbers and creating clear cut infographics to illustrate the need and function of base isolation and mass dampers. Bring Me Your Tired One Arm Bandits. With all due respect to our Nevada brethren, New Yorkers are somewhat chagrined to learn that the Post Office will not fix their goof of putting an image of the Las Vegas rendition of Lady Liberty on a new stamp rather than an image of the original in the New York Harbor. Officials say the teenage version will stay, prompting Ed Koch to sound off to The Times "...the post office is doing a stupid thing.” Riverfront Fortress. With tax day looming, don't try to go postal with the IRS in Philly. You won't stand a chance. The agency has taken over the main branch of the old Post Office overlooking the Schuylkill River. The WPA-era grand limestone edifice took on $252 million makeover, and Philadelphia Inquirer critic Inga Saffron is not impressed. Saffron says the building, heralded as the new gateway to University City, keeps the gates closed by overdoing security measures (via ArchNews). Kaboom! NBC affiliate in the Bay Area has footage of the demolition of the last remaining WWII-era military hospital in California (via Curbed).
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Unraveling strands of steel pipe create a clothing display and focal point for the tony boutique.Flatcut, a design and fabrication firm with a studio in Brooklyn and a 100,000-square-foot facility in Passaic, New Jersey, has more than 100 machines to its name. Though it has the capabilities to mass-produce 20,000 custom furniture pieces and 50,000-square-foot facades, the firm also creates small, site-specific installations for museums and retail stores. Most recently the Beckley Boutique, a celebrity hot spot and shopping destination on Melrose Avenue, hired Flatcut to design an eye-catching design feature at its new Las Vegas outpost in the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino. With its Arquitectonica-designed façade, the Cosmopolitan has interiors by Rockwell Group, Jeffrey Beers, and Adam Tihany; the hotel’s retail stores wanted to stand out, too. Beckley envisioned a functional sculpture at the store’s entrance to showcase its eclectic mix of emerging and established fashion designers. Flatcut had already worked on the store’s Melrose flagship, so the firm was a natural choice to design a new feature. Rather than produce a literal translation of a retail “tree” (like the one that stands in the Melrose store window), Flatcut abstracted the design into bunches of unraveling strands to create a dynamic shape that would attract hotel and casino patrons while also setting off the boutique’s wares displayed prominently in the storefront. The design was developed parametrically to establish an iterative process capable of creating multiple variations in a short period of time. The firm’s custom software is capable of reading a series of radii and lengths taken directly from the 3-D model. This results in a highly accurate translation process, with little opportunity for human error. The tree’s strands are made of one-inch outside diameter light-gauge steel tubing pipe bent by a three-axis CNC pipe bender. The sculpture includes a total of 36 custom strands designed from three different curves and cut at 12 different lengths, creating a swirling, centrifugal design. Notches at the top of each branch can hold hangers or accessories. Though the installation stands only 10 feet tall with a diameter of five feet, it holds its own among the hipster clothing and stands out in newly design-centric Las Vegas.
Triangle Fire Open Archive. This March marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a 1911 catastrophe that killed 146 people, many of them poor immigrant women. That fire became a rallying cry for the labor movement in America and an impetus for the creation of the fire codes of today. The Triangle Fire Open Archive commemorates the event in a very modern way, with user-generated contributions that allow the larger community to tell the story of the fire and critically reflect on its relevance today. (And today, March 16, the Brooklyn Historical Society give visitors a rare chance to view the archive in person from 3pm to 7pm.) Slumming it in SoHo. Today's SoHo may be home to glitzy galleries, high-end retail, and the east coast branch of the infamous Karadshian clan, but it wasn't always so swanky. In fact, as Ephemeral New York tells us, it was sort of smelly, especially along a blighted stretch of West Broadway that was better known as "Rotten Row." History of Urban Design 101. Urban Omnibus dives into the history of urban design as an academic discipline and talks with Parsons prof Victoria Marshall about how schools are shaping urban designers of the future. Chez Simpsons. Las Vegas is a study in architectural illusions, with its own versions of the NYC skyline, the Eiffel Tower and Venice's Grand Canal. But nearby Henderson, NV has its own architecture fantasy bona fides: Curbed tells us that Henderson was once home to the house that the animated Simpsons family called home.
We've recently returned from Las Vegas, where we visited one of the coolest institutions in the world: The Neon Museum, located on the far northern end of The Strip. The museum, about to celebrate its 15th anniversary, and ready to open its new visitors center next year (a rehab of the swooping, Paul Williams-designed La Concha Hotel), features a beautiful jumble of over 150 old signs that tell the story of Vegas, from mobster Bugsy Siegal's El Cortes Hotel and Casino to the Moulin Rouge, Vegas' first integrated casino, to the Atomic Age Stardust. The signs, scattered around the museum's "boneyard" in rough chronological order, also reveal the rich history of sign-making talent in the city, from companies like the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) and designers like Betty Willis, who designed the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" marqee. As Robert Venturi reminded us, the city has influenced much of our country's roadside aesthetic. Here's a small sampling of what we saw. Enjoy! (Photos Courtesy Neon Museum)
New Las Vegas megaresort City Center, which we reviewed in January (it features buildings by Daniel Libeskind, Cesar Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, and others) just reported its first quarter results. They weren't good. The's $8.5 billion project, owned by MGM Mirage and Dubai World (which has finally worked out a debt restructuring deal with its creditors), recorded an operating loss of $255 million, and has only been able to sell about 100 of its 2,400 luxury condominiums, according to the Wall Street Journal. MGM is also locked in a lawsuit with its contractor, Perini Building Co, for defective workmanship and overbilling. For what it's worth the company claims that it will soon begin to turn a profit on the project. Now that's a Vegas bet we're interested in following.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that, in spite of some hold ups with environmental approvals, work is expected to begin this year on the $4 billion DesertXpress, a high-speed rail link between Vegas and Victorville, California. Construction on the 185-mile project, which involves two parallel, at-grade tracks through the Mojave Desert, mostly along the I-15 corridor, should take four years. Service is scheduled to being in late 2014. Aecom and Stantec have both been involved in the project thus far, along with a slew of engineering companies. The decision to begin/end the line at Victorville has raised some eyebrows. There are advocates who are pushing for an extension to Palmdale—the site of a future high-speed rail link to Union Station—allowing non-stop rail service from downtown LA to Vegas. DesertXpress chose the Victorville terminus because it is the first major population center west of the Cajon Pass, easily accessible to millions of people in the Inland Empire, and could be paid for without recourse to public tax dollars. To date, the project has been entirely privately funded, though it could be eligible for Federal Stimulus money in the future.
And so it begins. MGM Mirage's 67-acre, 18 million square foot, $7.8 billion CityCenter, one of the biggest developments in the history of mankind, officially opened today. It includes buildings by Cesar Pelli, Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, KPF and Norman Foster. We can't wait to put together our commentary. Here are some initial thoughts after our first day here: The Pros: -It's a great accomplishment for Las Vegas to finally highlight contemporary architecture instead of theme-based pastiche (Paris, Venice, Luxor, etc. etc) or high end luxury (Bellagio, Wynn, etc). This place doesn't have a theme, but the closest two are architecture and urbanism. Who knew? Whether they pulled this off is another question. -There are some architectural gems. All the buildings have their strong points: Jahn's Veer towers are the most ambitious, with their off-kilter forms, intricate and colorful facades, and tension between lightness and monumentality. Pelli's Aria, the epicenter of the development, is strongest at night when its facade glows thanks to fantastic lighting that brings out the brightness in the glassy building's aluminum mesh sunshades. Inside its highlight is the collection of large windows that open to Libeskind's Crystals, and to natural light. More critique to come.. -The collection of buildings does create a feeling of urbanity, particularly from certain perspectives. For example the view toward the Aria from the entance road, when framed by the rows of buildings on either side, is a powerful moment, particularly at night. In fact like most things in Vegas, everything is better here at night, when more people are activating the place and lights and excitement cover up any flaws. -Most of the buildings have achieved LEED Gold certification, and many even incorporate natural light and views of the (gasp) outside, a rarity for Las Vegas, where experience is tightly controlled to suck you in and even confuse you into spending money. -Perhaps the biggest pro is that this thing actually got done in such troubled economic times. A bailout from Infinity World Development Corp, a subsidiary of (we're not joking here) Dubai World is what gave it the last push when things were looking bleak. The Cons -While it's admirable that the development is seeking to be more urban than the self-contained megastructures of Las Vegas, it's not really a city center. A diversity of styles and a grouping of self-contained buildings is certainly a start. But there's very little diversity of uses, little connection to the street (or to the realities of everyday life) and to the rest of Las Vegas, very few pedestrian friendly spaces that aren't intended to suck out your money, and a chance for a real public plaza in the center of the development has been wasted in favor of a giant traffic circle. -It's great that CityCenter went for a diversity of styles, but it would have been nice if they fit together in a more logical way. Right now it's sort of an architectural petting zoo; a collection of pretty objects with limited relation to one another. -While the buildings are all solid the architecture for the most part is pretty conservative and not breaking any new ground. There's only so far that a large public corporation like MGM will go in its taste for experiment. The exception is Jahn's, which while a formal spectacle (perfect for Vegas!) doesn't feel gimmicky. Libeskind's is very edgy as well, but not much different from what we've seen him do elsewhere. Time for us to digest some more and get back to you. But here are some pictures taken by yours truly to enjoy.