Crystals, CityCenter, Las Vegas

No theming, no gift shops, no gimmicks, no casino. Just pure elegance.
Posted February 26, 2010
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Even Las Vegas, which claims to have seen it all, may not have seen anything quite like CityCenter, the new mixed-use development from MGM Mirage.

The exterior does not reference a Paris tower, a New York statue, an Egyptian pyramid or a Venetian canal. The only theme here would be great architecture. Think Daniel Libeskind, David Rockwell, Gensler, Deborah Berke, Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Helmut Jahn, Rafael Viñoly and Norman Foster, all of whom had their hands in some part of the project.

“The design intent was to create a luxury environment,” says Farid Matraki, vp and general manager of Crystals, the retail component of the complex just completed on a previously undeveloped site on the Vegas Strip, tucked between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio casino hotels.

And one not tied to the old rules. People can access Crystals without having to pass through a hotel casino – a traffic pattern old-line Vegas hotel planners would have dismissed. In fact, only one of the four luxury hotels in the 67-acre complex has a casino. And even in that one, the Aria, it’s not the casino that dominates the lobby: It’s the architecture, the sculpture of Maya Lin and a giant photo collage of actor Christopher Walken, assembled and on loan from artist Julian Schnabel.

While the construction is lavish and lights up the night – this is still Vegas, after all – the huge $8.5 billion project has earned LEED gold certification. So serious are the developers about their mission, in fact, that they’re letting people know that guests arriving in alternative fuel vehicles have access to preferred parking spaces.
Finally, at a time when most other retail developers have pulled in on the reins, Crystals gives us the old-time razzle-dazzle by assembling a world-class group of fashion brands. For many, like Kiton, Marni and Kiki De Montparnasse, it’s the first Las Vegas location. For others, like Louis Vuitton (see also page 16) and Van Cleef & Arpel, it’s the largest U.S. location. And Crystals challenged every tenant to produce a store design nobody had seen before.

“We told them we want something different,” Matraki says. “Every retailer needed to rethink its concept.” In fact, Crystals had the right of approval on every store design.
The center, all intersecting planes and jagged points, sits nestled along the ground, as the four hotels – the Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Harmon and Vdera – and Veer Towers, a residential development, rise into the sky around it. The name comes from the architecture’s crystalline look and feel.

The interior is the creation of the always-stimulating Rockwell Group (New York), a series of organic shapes and green spaces that the architect and designer says is “meant to engage people emotionally and tell a series of memorable stories.”
Elements include a circular, 70-foot tree house and a Spanish Steps-inspired grand staircase. Illuminated ice sculptures, called “Glacia,” emerge from a pool of water in continually changing shapes and patterns. The Glacia, which melt by day and re-freeze at night, were designed by WET (Sun Valley, Calif.), the firm known for its work on the Bellagio fountains next door.

“These found objects along the way dot the visitor experience,” says Rockwell Group’s David Mexico, the principal in charge of the project. “We tried to create an urban park, a central green space.”

Mexico says each retail tenant has a prime location and was expected to bring its A game to the venture. “Everyone was charged with producing design interest and integrity,” he says. “This represents what could be the future of urban design.”