Monday, October 4, 2010

New Yorker: CityCenter Neither a City Nor a Center

The current issue of The New Yorker takes on CityCenter and the results are pretty brutal.

It's ostensibly an architecture review by a Pulitzer winner, and on that score several of the buildings get pretty good marks individually. But the damning conclusion is that, despite Jim Murren's vaunted city planning studies and art history minor and ongoing blah-blah theories about the project, it fails to accomplish anything that Murren has claimed it would. To wit:

Even though there is more density to CityCenter than there is to anything else in Las Vegas, and more sophistication to its architecture, it doesn’t feel urban. Its planners have crammed more square footage into a tighter space than anyone else has managed in Las Vegas, and that may make this place seem like an antidote to sprawl. But it still isn’t much of a center, or much of a city. Indeed, as you drive around the site, you suddenly wonder if CityCenter only appears to be different from the rest of the Strip. After all, cutting-edge contemporary architecture by the likes of Libeskind and Foster has been migrating steadily into the cultural mainstream for years. Now, perhaps, it has reached the point where it is familiar enough, and likable enough, to be just another style available for imitation, like the Pyramids or Renaissance Venice. CityCenter is the Las Vegas you already know, but in modernist drag.

That, of course, is a fancy way of saying precisely what RateVegas' Hunter Hillegas is quoted as saying in my L.A. Weekly piece from last year before CityCenter opened:

“They like to say that CityCenter is unique, and you won’t find the word theme anywhere in their press material,” he offers. “But it’s city-themed.”

There is some other interesting stuff in Paul Goldberger's piece, namely that he rejects an idea explored in some depth on the last episode of the Vegas Gang podcast that the project ought to have been built in stages. That, Goldberger says, "would have been too restrained." He also lays much blame for the failure of Harmon on Lord Norman Foster, the architect, for an uninteresting building regardless of its construction snafus.

CityCenter's saving grace, beyond the Veer Towers which he finds cool and dramatic, is one thing almost everyone else agrees sucks: The Crystals mall.

Jagged, crystalline shapes are characteristic of Libeskind, and while they have proved problematic in some of the museums he has designed, here they inject the normally dreary precinct of a shopping mall with a shot of adrenaline; they also provide some unexpectedly grand spaces, which accommodate interiors designed by David Rockwell.

Yeah. Because you want your malls to look like airplane hangars and feel empty and absent of activity regardless of how many people inhabit them. And Rockwell's mammoth penis really resolves that.

Still, it's an interesting take from a sophisticate who, of course, is mentally stuck in early 1990s Vegas. He spends nearly half his piece arguing CityCenter as an antidote for "theme-park Vegas" and ignoring the fact that the last themed casino, the Aladdin, opened more than nine years ago. Since then, we've seen Wynn, Encore, Palazzo, Trump, Signature, Palms Place, South Point, Suncoast, M, Aliante and Red Rock Resort. Wow, CityCenter really turned that tide!

[Top photo of CityCenter taken moments ago from the balcony at the unthemed Signature.]