An architect notes Las Vegas has everything—except Las Vegas

A rendering of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, scheduled to open its doors in Spring 2012.

At a recent Symphony Park Lecture Series, David M. Schwarz, architect for the Smith Center for the Performing arts, probably had no idea he was insulting Las Vegas residents when he said that architecturally there was “nothing someone hasn’t done here”—Venice, ancient Rome, New York.

“The only thing you don’t have in Las Vegas is Las Vegas,” he said. “When it comes to understanding ‘what is Las Vegas’ and ‘what is iconic Las Vegas,’ it’s hard.”

In looking for a way to relate to the community, Schwarz overlooked it by going to the Strip. Maybe it’s our fault. We market the Strip to the world. Our sprawl and stucco, pop-up homes, facing inward behind stucco walls, equate ugliness and thwart any real sense of community. Some might say that, to best reflect Las Vegas, the Smith Center should be a large, boxy, Spanish-style stucco house—a bold artistic statement.

Problem is, many locals, particularly Downtowners, will argue that Las Vegas was a very distinctive city before it was trampled by growth, had a sprawling meltdown and became schizophrenic in its design.

They’re proud of the city’s mid-mod architecture, familiar landmarks—both standing and imploded—and cherished neighborhoods emitting rich Las Vegas history. Schwarz somehow overlooked all that and eventually turned to the Hoover Dam for inspiration, citing its stunning art deco design and engineering feats and stating that without it, Las Vegas wouldn’t be what it is today. He’s right about that, but it’s always surprising to see the larger story, the idea of Las Vegas, overlooked.

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Kristen Peterson

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