Themes vs. Starchitects

Does the latest Las Vegas creation project the same attraction as a themed resort may?

CityCenter has opened, and the architects have spoken: “Look at me! I am a monument to all things great!”

They have taken the best the world has to offer and delivered it right to the center of Las Vegas: great architecture, brilliant art, first-class accommodations, and an unrivaled group of retail, dining and entertainment, sure to wow the most experienced travelers. Even Elvis is back in the building.

CityCenter is the anti-themed property, for themes are for the less fortunate. But you don’t need an architecture degree to fall in love with it like the rest of us.

There’s a certain horse that sits in a fountain at the Forum Shops that’s been in more pictures than Pamela Anderson. Each day tourists from around the world stop to have their picture taken in that silly themed mall. I don’t know why, but it’s one of the more visited sites in Las Vegas, and one of the most successful malls in the world. Even if you can’t afford to shop there, it is on most Las Vegas visitors’ lists. Even the well-heeled locals have accepted it, and love to shop there, eat there and soak up its soul.

I often find myself in the grand lobby of the Venetian, a very themed resort. I’ve seen the tourists that stand, mouths agape, photographing their very own piece of Italy.

Now, even I’m smart enough to know this is not really Venice, but somehow it still manages to capture the heart and soul of all those who visit. This is not a poor crowd, or one that is not well traveled. It includes more than its fair share of Asians and Europeans who can see the real thing if they want to.

For the rest of us poor souls, it might be the closet we ever get to the real Italy. And it is hard to ignore the emotional connection that entices a fool to pay money to sit in a gondola in a bathtub of water in 120-degree weather.

The Venetian in Macau welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year. That’s more than most countries in this world. Think about that—it’s insane! In one building, designers have created a must-see experience greater than entire cities built over thousands of years, or the most breathtaking monuments of nature carved by sand, rain and the hand of God.

How is it that walking through Paris in Las Vegas makes you want to buy a crepe? Where else in the United States are people buying crepes? Who eats a crepe? For the love of God, it’s filled with Nutella.

Nothing takes my thoughts away as much as walking the faux concrete wall that graces most of the Excalibur. I imagine myself on a horse, skewering tourists with my favorite jousting weapon. Once again, a theme has tricked me into becoming a renaissance man of little intelligence but great muscle, doing things I don’t normally do. Like a comic book hero, I’m out to rid the world of fanny packs, penny slot players and Snooki groupies.

Caesars Palace convinces me I’m a Roman god, deserving of world-class service and endless fun. The Colosseum that houses Celine is a great reproduction of the Roman monument. With the voice of an angel, a dazzling production and a themed environment, she brings 4,000 people to the casino on a nightly basis. I smell money—big money!

Please don’t be embarrassed; stand up and be proud. Even though you know she’s not real, who hasn’t had their picture taken with the always busty (and chilly) Cleopatra?

These are just a few examples of themed resorts that have tremendous soul and a strong emotional connection to their customers. I’m not sure if it’s right or wrong, smart or dumb, but I have to figure large crowds of people spending money is always a good thing!

This leads us back to CityCenter, a testament to culture and design. It has no theme other than architecture itself. It is visually stunning, a monument to the true genius and artistic spirit of man. Being an architect, I can only bow to the greatness of those minds that came together to create such a collection of works.

Some have wondered if people feel that emotional connection to an intelligent resort or simply stand back and admire it like art, something to be enjoyed from a distance, with little interaction. Many a tourist has said, “Turn up the lights, shout, dance, show us your soul and I’ll give you my treasured beads!”