Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

– LEED Building

Grand Rapids Art Museum – GRAM – (2007)

Kulapat Yantrasast, Yo Hakomori, Aaron Loewenson, wHY Architecture; Architects

101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids MI

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Touted as the world’s first LEED Gold certified art museum, this brutalist bare concrete structure actually has very sophisticated details and beautiful spaces. The “green features” are integrated throughout the building. Some are obvious, and some are cleverly integrated and were only discovered by reading reports of all of the earth friendly features of the building.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum website

Need a place to stay while visiting? The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Downtown Courtyard are within a short walk.

Hungry? These are my favorite restaurants within a short walk that I discovered while visiting:

Osteria Rossa, Rockwell Republic and San Chez (which also has breakfast)

Aria Resort and Casino (2009)

Cesar Pelli / Pelli Clarke Pelli, Architect

CityCenter Las Vegas

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4,000,000 SF, 4,004 rooms, 61 stories, LEED Gold

This casino, resort, hotel and convention center is quite unique in Las Vegas. In a sea of casino buildings trying to replicate other buildings, other cities, other cultures, and other centuries, Aria’s crisp clean, contemporary architecture is , well just really really good crisp, clean, contemporary architecture. It is honest through and through.

Cesar Pelli has taken the 4,000 rooms, arranged them in gently curving towers of unequal height, and given each of them a corner window. Inside, the lobby’s long registration counter is in front of a wall of glass overlooking a small vest-pocket park featuring a large Henry Moore sculpture.  Hanging above the registration counter is one of my favorite art installations. It is a glistening silver casting of the Colorado river flowing across the space by Maya Lin. It is beautiful.

Outside the main entrance, edging the circular drive is a fascinating and wonderful water wall. The sloped wall with a textured surface has an ever-changing waterfall flowing over it.  From a trickle to a deluge, the water creates a display that is visually, sensually, and audibly soothing.

The more I walked around it and through it, the more I appreciated this building and casino. The casino has a more masculine feel than most others on the strip. Aria does not try to be anything other than what it is, a great contemporary resort and casino, arguably the best on the strip.

Crystals at CityCenter (2010)

Studio Daniel Libeskind,  Architecture

Rockwell Group, Interior Architecture

CityCenter Las Vegas

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Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas (2009)

Kohn Pederson Fox, Architects

CityCenter Las Vegas

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Vdara Hotel and Spa (2009)

Rafael Vinoly, Architect

CityCenter Las Vegas

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Veer Towers (2010)

Helmut Jahn, Architect

CityCenter Las Vegas

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CityCenter Las Vegas (2009)

On the Las Vegas Strip

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CityCenter Las Vegas is a $9.2 billion development on 76 acres on “The Strip” in Las Vegas. It is sandwiched between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio Resorts. (The Cosmopolitian Resort was constructed at the same time as CityCenter and is now open on a sliver of land between CityCenter and Bellagio). The Master Plan was designed by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects.

The main buildings in the mixed use development are the Aria Resort and Casino, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel and residential condominium tower, Veer Towers residential condominiums, Vdara Hotel and Spa, The Harmon Hotel, Spa & Residences, and The Shops at Crystals. The Harmon tower, originally designed to be 49 stories, but was only built to the 28th floor due to structural issues.  Although the distinctive multi-toned blue glass curtain wall exterior was installed. the interiors were never built out and the tower’s demolition is pending.

The buildings were designed by internationally known architects – at least the superstructure, building form and exterior curtain wall design. The list includes Cesar Pelli, Daniel Libeskind, Helmut Jahn, William Pederson, Rafael Vinoli, Sir Norman Foster and David Rockwell. The building’s interior architecture was mostly or completely designed within the superstructure by other architects to meet the needs of the hotel, condominium, retail, gaming and entertainment occupants.

I will include images and comments on each of the main buildings in CityCenter with separate posts. For links click on the names here: Aria, Mandarin, Veer, Vdara, Crystals and Harmon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the architects that worked on the Mandarin Hotel guest rooms, Mandarin residential penthouses, Veer residential penthouses, and Harmon residential penthouses projects.

Heifer International World Headquarters (2006)

Reese Rowland AIA, Project Designer

1 World Avenue, Little Rock AR

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Visited April 25 & 26 2013

What I love about my roadtrips is that I come across all sorts of unusual and unexpected surprises.

There is a large development behind the Clinton Center that peaked my interest, and I discovered that it all started with a cow…yes, a cow.

From their website, “Heifer International’s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth”. The story of how it started is one of those simple stories that just makes sense:

“Moved by the plight of orphans and refugees… as he ladled out meager rations of powdered milk, Dan West… grasped that the people needed “a cow, not a cup”—cows that could produce milk so families would not have to depend on temporary aid.”

The facility is actually a couple buildings, a large office building and a low pavilion which is used as a demonstration and education space. The complex was designed as a sustainable project with telltale sunscreens, natural planting areas, and roofwater runoff directed down creatively conceived troughs in the concrete wingwalls to water the planting beds.

With limited time, and an overcast rainy day, my experience and photos of the complex are very superficial and limited. After seeing the buildings from a distance, I just walked over in the misty rain and started taking pictures. I did not grasp the full impact of the Heifer organization and their buildings until I went through their website after I got back home…

It looks to me like they are doing a great job with both their mission and their buildings!

While in Little Rock, if you want to try a fun colorful place for dinner, I recommend Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro

Clinton Presidential Center – Interior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 26, 2013

While at the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo

Clinton Presidential Center – Exterior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 25 & 26, 2013

I finally got the opportunity to visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. Over the years I have heard other architects joking that it looks like a single wide trailer. I was shocked to chat with a local woman in Little Rock who found out that I was an architect there to see the Clinton Center – she leaned over and quietly said “I think it looks like a single wide trailer”.

I have seen other James Stewart Polshek buildings and know that they are striking, well detailed modern objects. This is no exception. This building is described as a bridge…at least the beginning of a bridge cantilevered out at the river’s edge. He uses the bridge reference literally from the adjacent abandoned railroad bridge, and figuratively from Clinton’s “Bridge to the Future” acceptance speech. This square tube truss dramatically cantilevers out toward the river at the eastern edge of downtown Little Rock. The western facade has fritted glass panels suspended several feet in front of the truss frame creating a sunscreen shielding the interior space. At night this glass curtain glows with the light from inside the museum. The cross bracing structural members on the ends are purposely placed off center to create a dynamic frame in what could have been a bland facade. It did not disappoint. Well done.

As far as the local’s reference to it looking like a single wide trailer, The Clinton Presidential Center is not alone with nicknames.  Polshek’s Biomedical Science Research Building on the University of Michigan Campus is known as the “Pringle” building by locals – due to the potato chip shaped roof of the auditorium sited prominently out front. I am sure that James Stewart Polshek would not approve of either.

While visiting the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo

Kohl Building (2010)

Westlake Reed Leskosky, Architects

44 West College Street Oberlin, OH 44074

on the campus of Oberlin College & Conservatory

Aerial View and Map ( the aerial view was taken prior to the construction of the building)

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Visited June 2, 2011

The Bertram and Judith Kohl Building is the College’s home to the jazz, music history and theory programs. It sits in the back corner of a parking lot, behind a block of Main street storefronts. I happened upon the building by accident, and what a happy accident it was. The LEED building is a sculpture of metal panels with a syncopation of windows on the east facade. On the west side there is a 3rd floor skybridge which takes a jog before the glass clad tube truss crosses the sidewalk below and connects to Yamasaki’s 1963 Conservatory Building.

What appeared to be a grand opportunity, there is a grand stairway up the side of the building to what promised to be a grand rooftop garden. What a disappointment the rooftop garden was. It was a small area, mostly hard surface, with planters around the perimeter. The parapet wall is too tall to get a view from the center of the deck, and the planters prevents anyone from getting close enough to look over the parapet for a view. Perhaps a nod to the Fontainebleau Hotel’s “Staircase to Nowhere”? Once you climb the stairs to the third floor, the only thing to do is to come back down. (to be fair, I think there is a cafe inside adjacent to the deck, but it was closed the day I climbed the stairs).

For more information on the Kohl Building, check out these links:

Westlake Reed Leskosky Website


Architect Magazine Article