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Best of Liz Benston

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Liz Benston
 

Wynn: Subtlety Becoming Trend in Las Vegas Valley Architecture

20 May 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Capping off the first day of the American Institute of Architects convention, Steve Wynn greeted several hundred architects who gathered to hear him talk about his new resort Thursday evening and called the gathering a milestone for Las Vegas.

"We are agog that you're here," Wynn said.

For more than a century, the group has held its annual convention in just about every major American city except for Las Vegas until now. The event, held at Mandalay Bay, is expected to attract some 25,000 attendees through Saturday -- its largest gathering in history.

In a separate speech held at Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn said Las Vegas and its crass architecture is changing as customers become more sophisticated.

"If you're looking for subtlety you won't find it," he said. "But there's a steady trend toward subtlety" in Las Vegas.

Until recently, architectural decisions were fairly arbitrary, Wynn said.

"It was, 'OK, let's copy Piazza San Marco,'¢thº" he said, referring to his next-door competitor The Venetian. "Let's copy the skyline of New York. Let's copy the pyramids of Egypt - God forbid."

Wynn invited critiques of his resort but also rebutted recent criticism in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times calling the building banal and boring.

"What you think of this place matters," Wynn said.

The Los Angeles Times critic, however, made a "snotty remark" and "didn't get it," he said.

The glass walls on the outside of the building were dictated by the desire to build floor-to-ceiling windows that appeal to guests. Other design features inside the building, including the bright colors and wavy patterns, are intended to encourage movement around the casino and heighten the senses, he said.

"Something is going on that makes people's energy levels lift," he said. "Our revenue levels are unprecedented," blowing past the record returns the Bellagio resort generated in its first few weeks, he said.

Wynn said he is out to please customers rather than design critics. "Are we crassly commercial or is this what architecture is supposed to be about?" he said.

Las Vegas resort architect and former casino operator Anthony Marnell, who also spoke at the session, echoed Wynn's comments.

"As an architect and builder you tend to focus on what people need," Marnell said. "Las Vegas is more about what we want in our lives."

Marnell Corrao Associates built Wynn's Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio resorts, which are now owned by MGM Mirage.

Marnell met the casino boss when Wynn was running the Golden Nugget casino in downtown Las Vegas and bought an old casino on the Strip to build the Mirage. Marnell said he "got his attention" by buying up some apartments behind Wynn's parcel.

"I knew he'd talk to me then," Marnell said.

Under Wynn's direction, Marnell said he took risks by breaking with the pack mentality in Las Vegas and creating new casino features such as atriums.

"These are monumental kinds of tasks when you're playing around with $2.7 billion dollars and it's the shareholders' money," he said.

Future casinos will be built around what customers say they want, Marnell said.

"Someone will build an office building with a casino in it or build a casino that looks like the Seagram building" in New York City, he said. "That day will come."

Some attendees applauded Wynn's latest creation but said "modernists" wouldn't appreciate the resort because it isn't modern or innovative enough.

Wynn Las Vegas has "the most progressive tower I've ever seen" but the interior of the building "isn't so progressive," Los Angeles architect John Mutlow said.

Letting more light inside the casino is a step forward, however, he said.

"People don't go into dark casinos anymore," he said.

Mutlow said he was impressed with Wynn's longtime partnership with Marnell as well as their "passion" for entertaining tourists.

Los Angeles architect Dan Meis said the architecture community, after long ignoring Las Vegas, has become fascinated with its growth.

"It's the Beijing of this country," Meis said. "The pace of development is unheard of. Nowhere else in the world would this be economically viable."

Santa Monica architect Andrea Cohen Gehring called Las Vegas critics "elitists" and said "it's about time" the AIA has gathered in the casino capital.

Wynn's resort may not please modernists but it's still "pleasant" to look at, Gehring said.

Wynn: Subtlety Becoming Trend in Las Vegas Valley Architecture is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.