The CityCenter mega-resort opened last month to fanfare, press, and a fireworks display fitting of a 67-acre 8.7 billion dollar gamble sitting on the Las Vegas Strip. The project surpassed its original sustainability goal of LEED Silver to score an impressive six LEED Gold Certifications (with another one on its way), and it was the recipient of the US Forest Stewardship Council’s best commercial project of 2009. However Las Vegas is a desert, and in this resource-constrained site we couldn’t help but pull back a bit of the star-crossed blinds and ask how deep does the green really go?
Quite frankly we wouldn’t expect anything less than LEED certification from the project’s star-studded architectural design team, which includes Pelli Clark Pelli, Kohn Pederson Fox, Helmut Jahn, RV Architecture LLC led by Rafael Vinoly, Foster + Partners, Studio Daniel Libeskind, David Rockwell and Rockwell Group, and Gensler.
We were mesmerized by the organic spa treatments and the non-toxin filled air in a relatively odorless casino floor, but couldn’t help but question why such a huge desert development doesn’t have a single solar panel on it. And while we ran our fingers over recycled glass block and eyed bamboo-sheathed columns we couldn’t help but notice the luxurious addition of some rare and not necessarily sustainable materials. And although we would continue to help ourselves to the in-room Aveda products, we have to ask if it’s necessary to replace once used toiletries and towels that were neatly hung back on the rack and still have self-branded water bottles?
In coordinating all of the design teams, Gensler sought to provide the greatest amount of green for the buck, given the extent of the site: “MGM MIRAGE and Gensler’s team focused on the strategies with the greatest opportunity for impact and highest return on investment. For example, the central combined heat and power plant was probably the best move from an energy performance standpoint and yields direct cost savings over the life of the project. The landscape designers embraced the challenge of creating vibrant desert landscapes that minimize the need for irrigation. It was also really important to make informed decisions on which strategies were appropriate and which strategies were not so that we didn’t slow down the design and construction process and could focus the team’s efforts on the best solutions.”
Which really brings us to the question: are the clients that CityCenter hoping to attract really ready for all this sustainability, or is the hospitality industry still going to struggle with delivering quality service and the luxury products people are used to seeing? RV Architecture, the architects behind the Vdara resort believes so, “Vdara is an example of modern architecture as Las Vegas attraction, not reliant on the dated styles or themes common to most Las Vegas hotels. And that modern hi-end residential Las Vegas architecture can have refinement and sophistication and still be done with an environmental conscience that does not suffer in quality.”
We are happy to see clean modern lines throughout CityCenter and applaud the lack of the usual kitschy Vegas themes found on the strip. Daniel Liebskin, the architect behind the Crystals ultra chic retail destination, notes his commitment to sustainability and the client’s perspective on the project, “Architects in the 21st century must all take a sustainable approach to building. Any other solution would be irresponsible. I am fortunate to have many clients with a similar view, but MGM Mirage set an incredibly high expectation for all the design teams on this project and they made a commitment which was inspiring.”
Obviously we can’t overlook the on-site co-gen plant, the world’s first fleet of stretch limos running off of compressed natural gas, and the innumerable sustainable features that will save power and water. However since LEED is an additive certification program with no requirements to maintain what’s already in place, this means that MGM Mirage’s Energy and Environmental Services Division can wrap-up shop on this project, and we’ll hear little more about its sustainable achievements once the dust finally clears.
Is It Green?
Ultimately we’re impressed with Citycenter’s LEED qualifications and we’d love to see the design teams take things in-house, applying as much care and consideration as they did to the recycling of the demolished boardwalk within their entire operations. They could offer-up some products and educational assistance to their customers who might be interested in taking some sustainable luxury back to their homes, and perhaps look at commercializing some of their success by bringing their newly designed low flow fixtures for the 4000+ rooms in Aria, produced just for them thanks to economies of scale, to market for the masses.
However there are many underlying issues here that go beyond the buildings themselves – how can a project be truly green when it exists in the middle of a resource-constrained desert and relies upon carbon-heavy tourism for economic survival? And what does it say about the state of certification if supermassive projects built in the most unsustainable of contexts can be LEED certified? As a whole the project approaches the realm of many LEED certified super-projects cropping up in Dubai – technically green but of dubious ecological merit granted their context. Still, if it was going to be built at any rate at least they chose to make it as environmentally sensitive as possible.
Being a true leader in the realm of sustainability requires taking a Ray Anderson approach to business, making it a part of everything you do and by continue to spread the sustainable wealth. We would like to see MGM continue to lead once CityCenter is fully completed – you’ve built the buildings, what’s next?