In the last two weeks this column has heavily criticised design in the USA: firstly, the formation of the country and its institutions; and secondly, its industrial design and automotive design. The emailed responses can be summarised in one question: it can't be all bad?
It's not. There is astonishing architecture in the United States: exuberant, delightful, inventive and sustainable. Unlike the cars, it’s often appropriate and fit for purpose. Is there one building to convey all that in one column?
I’ve chosen the Clark County Government Centre. If Clark County rings a bell it’s because you’ve been hearing about it in the counting of the votes in the US elections. It’s covers Las Vegas and surrounds, an area that votes heavily Democrat in a usually Republican state, and its mail-in votes flipped Nevada to Biden.
The complex sits opposite the Las Vegas downtown, is spectacular, sustainable and creative and was designed and built between 1992-95. The architects, C W Fentress, J H Bradburn and Associates are not as well-known as they should be.
Seen from the freeway it is ringed by palms and trees, and is made of several buildings: a tower, atrium and pyramid; linked inside and out by deeply shaded walkways with chiaroscuro, quite appropriate in the heavy desert sun. A dramatic atrium space orients visitors at its main entry, linking a number of public facilities as well as a pyramid shaped dining room for staff.
The whole is built in red stone consistent with the surrounding landscape. The car park has ‘carport shades’ (as you would expect in this desert climate), which are made out of photovoltaics, allowing for the charging of electric cars.
It shows the commitment by the Government to the best in architecture, which must have been difficult in this ‘deep red’ state. Yes, bad pun. Trumpists would call this socialism. Democrats might say that it's public service. For me it's a really enjoyable and sustainable piece of architecture.
PS there is a Frank Gehry-designed Brain Study Centre opposite. Lots to enjoy off the strip, and to learn from Las Vegas.
Tone Wheeler is principal architect at Environa Studio, Adjunct Professor at UNSW and is President of the Australian Architecture Association. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and are not held or endorsed by A+D, the AAA or UNSW. Tone does not read Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Sanity is preserved by reading and replying only to comments addressed to [email protected]