The CityCenter in Las Vegas

By its sheer location or because of it, CityCenter is aptly named, for indeed in years to come it will be the pulsating core of the city of Las Vegas. The gross confluence of eclectic buildings, well-conceived infrastructures including its own tram transport, the provisions of easy walkways, bridges, strategic escalators, elevators and easy to negotiate semicircular vehicular paths make for smooth pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow; its awesome map of aerial view all come together to make it the much heralded heartland of the city. The modern architectural edifices while they appear to elbow make a well-arranged juxtaposition. The future and hopes of Las Vegas are delicately intertwined and anchored in this CityCenter. From my perch this will happen, certainly not overnight, but it shall come.

By conservative estimate, it will take at least a decade or two if not more to top this humongous complex; even assuming that someone, somewhere has conjured up something, a plan to outdo this one; it is a challenge that remains astronomical and maybe unthinkable. The CityCenter has the unique distinction as the most costly and ambitious single complex ever conceived in North America. It took outside of five years and five different world-named architectural firms to just make the concept and plans gel. And if it takes a minimum of another five years for execution of the plan, that equals a decade. Because of the deep recession that came during the second Bush years the project had to be scaled back in certain segments of the construction. Despite this the enormity of the scale remains awesome. Despite the setbacks nowhere is the art and quality of the architecture been compromised and the ultimate product is a monumental testament never experienced before, even in a city like Vegas where exaggerated and rarefied expectations are not uncommon.

The overall CityCenter is distinct from the rest of Vegas, simply because it is so unVegas not only in its overall more futuristic architectural style, the use of a combination of materials of vibrant colors; the individuality of structures and edifices are eclectic and have distinct aura and personality. The architecture of the buildings are 21st century, sleek, avant-garde with aim to remain relevant for a long, long time.


Prior to CityCenter, perhaps as presage to edifices with modernism flair and architectural style to come are the twin towers WYNN and ENCORE, which singularly stand as testaments to the future; whereas the tandem resorts have identical footprints; a great deal of consideration associated with some concepts lifted from practice of feng shui in the juxtaposition of the twin structures is evident; while the footprints are identical, they avoid the symmetry of a pair of identical twins nor the appearance of two gladiators facing each other ready to confront each other for survival. The interface of the two edifices remains a thing of beauty and the veiled existence of an underground isthmus connecting them is an added masterful touch. At each vantage angle where the words Wynn and Encore or Encore and Wynn are visible, a bond and interaction palpably exist albeit it subtly. “Wynn encores”, “Encore, Wynn” are what it whispers. The naming of the second structure must be deliberate. The two buildings resemble two separate decks of cards slightly bent and inchoate to be hand shuffled with the dynamism of the process awaited.

CityCenter carries on with the theme of modernism in its overall architectural style and a much awaited movement has now happened in Vegas. For the first time Vegas architecture has referenced itself to the modern skyscrapers, designed by internationally renowned architects, which have sprouted globally and particularly in metropolis like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, new sections of Hong Kong and Beijing not to mention the ones interspersed in some parts of the older cities of Europe like Bilbao, Vienna and Barcelona.

The CityCenter en toto is 18 million square ft; is built at a construction cost of $8.5 billion and will have 6291 hotel rooms (including privately owned condominia) when fully completed. What is also un-Vegas is within this gargantuan complex, for it truly is a city upon itself, there is only one 150,000 sq ft casino and one permanent show room, which are both at the ARIA Hotel and Resorts (more on this later.)

What is more totally un-Vegas are magnificent large pieces of artworks by contemporary masters carefully dispersed throughout the complex, indoors and outdoors. To date there are 17 pieces of such artwork on permanent display and are easily accessible by simply meandering thru the complex. The introduction of art is a touch of internationalism, intended to attract the globally affluent sophisticates who do may not come to Vegas necessarily for its gaming features. This distinguishes the Center from many of the other major upscale casinos. True the Bellagio has a copy of Lake Como with added lights and dancing waters, (of course it is beautiful free entertainment but still a copy,) Mandalay Bay has its Red Square, courtesy of Moscow, Luxor is a pyramid with diagonal elevators,, again copies, Paris meekly replicates the Eiffel Tower, again a copy, and New York, New York has many faux Manhattan icons which include the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn

Bridge, Central Park, Chrysler and Empire State buildings and roller coasters of Coney Island. While some are elegant and well done they do not fall into any specific category of art. These are all commercialized attractions which individualized the hotel casinos for years and have typified Vegas hotel casinos.

The CityCenter is destined to be a destination within a destination. Its construction is a welcome to the now more staid high riser casino hotels which are expressly symmetric and tall but do not mimic the Manhattan skyline because of the want of a shoreline. Hong Kong has its shorelines and Shanghai has its Bund and there lies the difference. There is something about a shoreline that makes a skyline flicker. That said, and arguably the most magnificent view of a conglomerate Vegas skyline at night is viewed at the Blue House Foundation terrace, a restaurant that masquerades as a members-only club, at the Mandalay Bay. One tip, the food is overpriced and nothing it is not something to write about, unless a change in chef and culinary happened since my two and only visits.

The Art and the Artists

Maya Lin

Behind and high up at the general multi-manned registration counter at the Aria hangs horizontally from right to left a replica of the Colorado River with its correctly scaled miniaturized troughs sculpted from reclaimed silver, a commissioned work specific for the hotel by Maya Lin titled, what else, Silver River. The Colorado River flows into the Grand Canyon and exposed rocks of billions of years make for an incredible gorge of no peer.

Unless one is aware of the work and its significance it can be easily ignored or dismissed as some wilted branches of large tree that someone somehow glued together. Ms. Lin choose the river as her particular subject for her work, because the river is vital to the survival of the area, namely the state of Nevada and therefore Las Vegas. Lin as in all her works balances her art and architecture ever since she won in a blinded international contest the privilege of designing the Vietnam War Memorial while still an architect student at Yale. Ever since I read about this I followed her career path. She won the competition at age 17, was 21 when the Memorial started construction and she is now 51 and has been the recipients of countless awards, recognition and honors.


Frank Stella

Behind the Vdara registration desk is a large quintessential Stella painting titled Damascus Gate Variation with all its glorious colors and clearly neat delineations of arcs. I approached the pretty lady registrant and casually mentioned that behind her is a Frank Stella and she smiled appreciatively, and so started our conversation. She asked where I was from, and I said New York City and she said I was the first person to ever talk with her about the painting. (Of course Vdara was opened only over four weeks ago at the time this conversation took place, and she worked there for the same length of time.) This particular piece was painted in 1969 when Stella’s particular style inchoate to peak, thereby making this a desirable piece. At auction it probably could fetch $75-100 million. But who is selling? This was my first encounter with the painting and in fact the first piece of art I viewed at the CityCenter and this encouraged me to saunter through the other pieces of work with more gusto, now armed with a map.

Peter Wegner (American born 1963)

Day for Night and Night for Day, are not only typical titles of Wegners work pieces but are exemplary of how he cut pieces of papers into squares that have been immersed with radiant spectrum of colors, whether this be yellow, orange or blue. Usually the spectrum ranges from a minimum of at least 6 to 10 different latitude of colors and depth, He uses a maquette (miniature model) for each large mountings. At the main lobby of the Vdara Hotel, his two mounted pieces, which face each other, and almost cover the walls and reach the ceilings are just a spectrum pf magnificent colors and are a must see pieces on anyone’s visit. The cuts give the impression of multicolored pixels, manipulated but coordinated and in these two pieces either burst to resplendent spectrum light yellow, mellow yellow, yellowish orange and into orange colors of various shades in a combined glory that perhaps burst into fireworks; and the contrarian piece is subdued whitish blue, faint blue, bluish, light blue, blue, darker blue and dark blue all within the color of blue spectrum. Soon the central pixilated structure of the sun becomes visible and a fading sun or perhaps the beginning of an early moon is seen opposite as its main counterbalance and symmetry. Thus either a fading sun is created or an evanescent moon is becoming visible. Such is the work of Wegener.

 Henry Moore

One either takes to Henry Moore’s work or does not, I happen to like his work. Like most artists, one cannot judge an artist based on one or two pieces of his work’ one has to view and understand his overall work and thus be able to start with point or reference or handle. Moore died in 1986 and is celebrated probably more for his sculptures which are huge by any standard, and they generally depict abstraction of mother and child or other smooth surfaced objects that maintain sinuous sensuos forms despite the enormity of their sizes. A British artist, whose works became globally recognized after the Museum of Modern Art in New York did a retrospective on him in 1946. The huge off whilte sculpture of Reclining Connected

Forms (Actually Mother and Child with the child still unborn) just outside the Aria

Hotel is a monumental testament to his style of ouvre. To have a Henry Moore parked outdoors, on the grounds of and adjacent to a Las Vegas Casino is erstwhile unheard of. Bravo to whoever procured this signature piece of work.

Masatoshi Izumi

Japanese stone carver born in Mure, in the island of Shikokoku, Japan met Izumi Noguchi, famed Japanese American artist sculptor in 1966 and their 22 years association brought notice to Izumi’s outdoor sculptures outside Japan. His Untitled huge piece is carved from natural stone, appears gross and unfinished but retains the beauty of the stone itself is bisected and wedged by another rectangular roughly carved stone of the same natural color gives the impression of a single piece of stone about to be split. This piece is at the Mandarin Oriental. He has two other sculptures outside Japan both in Seattle, Washington

Jun Kaneko (Japanese)

His three pieces of ceramic works which are gargantuan in size are Untitled, Dango (2002), Untitled, Dango (1996) and Untitled, Dango (1992) grace the entrance lobby of the Mandarin Oriental. They required unusually huge kilns for firing and are subsequently hand painted. He was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942 and migrated to the United States in 1963 and now lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He was part of the ceramic artists movement and his ceramic pieces are exhibited in 40 different art museums in the US. These three pieces are excellent examples of his works and should be seen.

Cale Oldenburg and Coosje an Bruggen

Oldenburg and Bruggen were married and collaborated in about 40 pieces of large outdoor sculptures/ Coosjie died last year (2009) in Los Angeles of metastatic breast cancer at age 66. She also lived in New York where she had a home. The subject of their sculpture is focused on small ordinary everyday things like a teaspoon with a red stemmed cherry held at its inside tip, a stamp with the word “free”, an upended flashlight, and the one at CityCenter is a typewriter eraser. These mundane everyday items are magnified in scale by a factor of at least 10 to the third times and the choice of medium used is critical because the work has to withstand the rigors and abuse of the natural elements. The current piece is only the third I have viewed, the first being the teaspoon and cherry in Minneapolis, (at the time I did not even pay attention to the names of the artists) and huge stamp with the word FREE with the ground serving as a stamp pad. This was commissioned by Standard of Ohio, now BP in 1982 in Cleveland. In the Typewriter Eraser the bristles of the eraser were large cables with some huge wires partially sticking out of the thick protective polymer cover.All the sculptures I have seen are verisimilitude with exaggerated magnifications. Who remembers a typewriter eraser, but this is in memoriam of that part of Americana.

Nancy Rubins (American born 1952)

Rubins signature is in industrial outdoor arts, which is the use of salvaged or discarded parts or scraps of airplanes, appliances, boats, mattresses, any large everyday functional object that has been discarded or has seen its days of utilitarian functions. In this piece Big Edge mounted at the forefront of Vdara Hotel is a typical sculpture from colorful old dinghys that have been “sculpted” together like a giant fan resembling a large banana plants of diverse colors. It is only when at a closer viewing of the work that the dinghys become individual identities. The choice of dinghys was perhaps deliberate albeit that they may not have been used in the Colorado River they are a reminder of larger boats that were. The individual parts seemed to be precariously assembled to challlenge gravity yet her sculptures do withstand the harshest of elements to which they become exposed. The Big Edge done in 2009 exemplies her work

Anthony Gormley (British)

Almost diagnonal and several feet away from the Elvis Show Room on the second floor of the ARIA Hotel Casino are three or four large peanut butter cup-like structures titled Feeling Material XXVIII (2007) by Gormley. They are combined, using materials like metal, wood and what look like polymers. They are interesting and have a certain feel and texture to it but they are nowhere near Angel at the North which established the artist on the map and is in his native England. The artist uses the human body as the subject of inspiration in many of his works but it is not clearly evident in this instance.

Jenny Holzer (American born 1950)

Well-known conceptual artist born in Gallipolis, Ohio and she made her name in New York City with textual projections and continues this trend on his works. For some reason I have missed her piece in Vegas but I am sure will revisit when the opportunity comes.

Jack Goldstein, (Canadian-American),Jenny Holzer (American b 1950,) FrancoisXavier Lalanne (French surrealist sculptor of animals) and Tony Cragg works were missed by the author during his walk through.

There are five separate hotel/condo entities and one independent shopping mall simply called Crystals. The five hotels are Vdara, Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Harmony and Veer. At this writing the last two were not completed yet.


The Aria is the largest of the five because it does include a huge casino, and its own show theatre in its complex. The Cirque de Soleil Elvis edition was on review when we saw it. The highlights of Elvis music is all there and to the producers credit the acrobatics which characterize most of their shows are kept at a minimal. The emcee was unsure and faltered here and there and most likely will be relieved unless he improved his act. The criticism here is the casino is unavoidably the first area one sees to the left as one enters the lobby and hears its noise making flickering slots and too, the casino is dimly lit. The preceding takes away a lot from what looks like a magnificent structure.


The Veer building does veer to one side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa only in this case only one side seems to veer; it is top heavy on that particular side. Instead of scraping the skies, the narrower base plants itself to the ground almost referencing itself to Pei’s inverted pyramid. Its coppery gold outside surface makes it the more imposing. (At this writing it has not opened and still undergoes finishing touches.)


The Harmon is a much taller building next to the Mandarin Oriental and the Veer but the outside surface of the building is a harmony of blue colors. This too is a condo hotel concern and is being completed at this writing.


Crossing a walkway bridge from the Crystals and Aria is the Mandarin Oriental, operated by the Asian based concern of the same name and made its debut in Vegas. In its facade is the recognizable spread-fan logo. Like most of its other buildings in Asia and one in New York its interior is simple, sleek, clean, clear, uncluttered and understated. This writer had the occasion to attend an evening fashion show at its Mandarin Ball Room.

The Fashion Show

The Fashion show was co-sponsored by Shanghai Tang, a well-known fashion boutique in Asia. The high tea that preceded the show exceeded expectations, the wines, including a champagne chambourg were excellent and the canapés complemented the libations. The wait staff including the ones tending the bar were flawless in their services but the show itself was another story. Instead of the exotic, chic, fashion coming out of Shanghai designers (it was heralded to be as such) the outfits shown for either gender were casual and drab. (Perhaps the same show would appeal to a younger crowd, but the latter was in little evidence at the show.)Both male and female models looked like hired young locals, not that there is anything wrong with that but they were unappealing and looked lost and did not connect with the guests.


This is a megashopping mall, and easily accessible from every hotel within the complex. All the brand names concerns are here and some new ones too. The spaciousness of its pedestrian paths as well as the atypical mall like arrangement of the different stores distinguishes it from all other malls. This complex can be also at home in Dubai as well as Vegas. There are many attractive looking restaurants, with moderately priced menus. There is also a huge

Aladdin-like lamp piece of artwork that rises to two stories and made from wood. Its ground floor exhibits two attractions some cylindrical ice-sculpture and a group of cylindricals with dancing waters that change colors.


Blossoms at the Aria: After the Elvis show a friend with us wanted noodles so we had them at this restaurant. Ambiance, perfect, service impeccable, noodles way overpriced. Probably the most expensive noodles I have ordered.

Moxen at the Mandarin Oriental: A fusion Asian restaurant but the different cuisines have separate seatings and menus. Good to try, still the prices are priced for this complex.

Julio Serrano at the Aria: Mainly tapas and small orders. Tried it for lunch because of the famed Serrano ham. Portions as expected were of small portions but the price was not although appear to be reasonable.

Silkroad at the Vdara: The one and only restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well done for its intent but almost walked out, because the maitre’d asked I take off my baseball cap even before we entered the restaurant. Since we were with a friend and this is the first one we ever tried, I held back. Food is acceptable but again the price could be 20 percent lower even for this place. What brought us in was the automated electronic on-touch menu at the entrance and the exotic name.

The preceding is based on five separate visits during the winter of 2009. Linked: under Travels.