03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

City Center: Green Isn't Supposed To Be This Gorgeous

Regarding our visit to the grand opening of City Center Las Vegas a few weeks ago, we talked about how spectacular the entire development is - from its architectural design to its green standpoints. Here are some more observations and architect interviews about this trendsetting space, perhaps the world's best example of cutting edge green design:

Julia Monk, founding principal of BBGM and designer of Vdara Hotel and major portions of ARIA:

We give clients a discount if they are going to be building a LEED certified structure. A major focus at City Center was lighting. We used fluorescent lamps which give off a similar glow to conventional bulbs, the latest advancement in LEDS which use only one third the energy but last 10 times longer. Low flow toilets in rooms, electronic window shades to reduce heat gain, low VOC paints, coatings, sealants and non-formaldehyde wall paneling. Recyclable fiberglass ceiling tiles, wall coverings, CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) certified carpet padding, strawboard sub-flooring, FSC wood floors, low-E glazed windows, Caesarstone countertops, the list goes on.

I asked Monk if they considered cutting back during construction as the economy tanked. She said, "We never wavered on the sustainability issues. We look at City Center as a long term commitment which will weather the storm until the economy recovers."



Adam Tihany, designer of Mandarin Oriental interiors, Union bar in ARIA:

We compare Mandarin to the design of a custom Brioni suit, not an off the rack Armani. The Mandarin brand whispers, it doesn't shout. There is a lot of perceived value, as a non-gaming six star property. It was never an option to forego green, despite the economy. This venue should open up the city to a whole new customer who otherwise would have snubbed it.

All woods, lighting, plumbing and HVAC systems at the Mandarin are green. From my own personal experience, the spa, all 30,000 feet of it, is absolutely exquisite. My previous favorite Mandarin Oriental was Tokyo, but this new property goes a step beyond.


David Rockwell, architect/designer of Crystals retail center:

We designed Crystals for the person who doesn't necessarily need to shop but is motivated by impulse. We wanted to create the feel of a park, from the flower carpet to the benches, reclaimed wood stairs, and plants and foliage. MGM allowed us to be creative and take risks. People watching was a priority. I noticed as a student that people walk in a gentle arc, from looking at footprints in the snow. The flower beds and other major design features follow this idea.

The HVAC tubing is all located in Crystals' floor, and only heats and cools up to about seven feet. This is very energy efficient so as not to waste power and fuel to heat and cool the huge open spaces in the center of the mall, as would be the case with a traditional forced air system. Crystals also earned an FSC award for its use of sustainable woods, some of the most beautiful you will ever see.


Cesar Pelli, architect of ARIA:

Our firm has been designing green buildings for some time, my son Raphael was on the forefront of green building. Bobby Baldwin (MGM CEO) was very open to creativity, taking on a very complex and demanding program, and he educated me as to how a casino works, which is very specific. All rooms needed to have great views in a limited space. People move in different ways, at the gaming tables, bars and restaurants, and pools. We think ARIA makes all the other locations on the Strip look tired.


WET, leading designer of water features for commercial spaces, CEO Mark Fuller explained:

We debuted five new creations at City Center. The wall of water you encounter upon approaching ARIA, entices the visitor. It uses compressed air instead of pumps, which uses 80 percent less water although it costs more up front. All the water is recycled of course, through a reverse osmosis process


Also noteworthy is "Glacia" a popsicle-like ice sculpture creation found inside Crystals mall which changes from day to day depending upon temperature. WET is a very specialized company, they have over 250 full time staff doing nothing but building water features.



Michelle Quinn, art curator and gallerist said, "I worked directly with the architects so that the art was not an afterthought. Spaces were specifically created for the sculptures."

Over $40 million is rumored to have been spent on art. A special energy efficient digital screen display by Jenny Holzer, found downstairs at ARIA's valet pickup area, is done with LED lighting to save energy. Another piece mounted behind the registration desk at ARIA, by environmental artist Maya, depicts the Colorado River as Nevada's water source. It is made of reclaimed silver to represent The Silver State. One can spend half a day just touring the art pieces, which are mostly contemporary and created with sustainability in mind.


GENSLER, global architecture, design and sustainable building firm: Talk about herding cats, can you imagine trying to manage the design and construction of all these elements simultaneously? While MGM Mirage CEO Bobby Baldwin and his staff deserve much of the credit, they hired the esteemed firm of Gensler to handle the day to day coordination. This covered everything from the art, water features, architecture, retail placement, the list goes on. So how about getting all those egos to play in the same sandbox together? This gargantuan task was conquered by Bobby Baldwin at the helm with Gensler as overall coordinator. Speaking of green, the tricks Gensler applied were quite innovative including fresh air blowing at the base of each dealer station and slot machine in the casino; special ventilation to purge smoke from the ARIA gambling area; and a special system by Control 4 which allows guests to voluntarily "green their stay" with the press of a button (thermostat settings, re-using linens, low lighting, etc.).


So when I pressed Nellie Reid, Sustainability Director of City Center, whether there were reservations on the scope of the property and the greenness of it all, she does not hesitate. "We designed City Center as a 20, 30, even 50 year project, not just in the here and now. That's why we aren't in a panic about the current economic climate. This project, unlike some others in Las Vegas, should have a much longer shelf life." Under Reid's direction, City Center, the world's largest LEED certified project, received 267 total credits out of 268 they applied for. I would put my money on her.

And let's hope for the sake of all Las Vegas, she's right!