Vegas Baby… a phrase that my wife taught our three-year-old daughter on a recent vacation to Las Vegas. Right smack in the middle of August we decided it would be a great idea to visit a desert, 110-degree dry heat by the way, to celebrate my mother in law’s milestone birthday. Vegas has come along way since the vision Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had, an American gangster who was a driving force behind the large-scale development, of the now metropolitan Las Vegas. A city where anything seems possible and most is unbelievable, Vegas has long caught our attention and afforded our family many fond memories.
My nephew, a landscape architecture student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, has told me time and time again that the built form of architecture must go hand in hand with the plant form and land form in order to achieve the best design solution. Subscribing to this philosophical view, and I do, then Las Vegas is achieving great design. My passions have always been held within the forms of great geometric design, thus one of our reasons for staying at the Venetian Hotel. Italian architecture littered with statuary, columns, belvederes and pergolas all contributed to, and softened, the hard geometric shapes of the pools and landscape beds. Wisteria engulfed archways, ficus trees, Sago palms and olive trees erupting through landscaped beds while nandina, boxwood, pittosporum and liriope helped frame their edges. And who could forget those beautiful Italian cypresses that anchored and solidified the Italian theme? Adding to the thoughtful design were huge stone planters filled with asparagus fern and spiral junipers. Walls of Noble privet, podocarpus and southern magnolia helped soften walls and hide utility boxes. Finally, vinca flower and pentas seemed unaffected by the incredible heat and begged to be noticed as they were in full flower.
Heading south down Las Vegas Boulevard, to the Bellagio Hotel, proved to be just as rewarding. Here is where you can begin to understand the importance of sculpture in the garden. Entering through the front doors and into the lobby, the Fiori di Como, is suspended, inside a coffer, some 18 feet above your head. What is the Fiori Di Como? A chandelier, by the renowned glass artisan Dale Chihuly, which is comprised of 2,000 hand blown, glass blossoms. This is the precursor to Bellagio’s conservatory and botanical gardens. Here, in August, waves of a bromeliad, Aechmea Del Mar and Tillandsia cyanea, an epiphyte from Ecuador, helped provide a bedding floor to support gigantic ant sculptures. A huge, toppled clay pot had flowers spilling out from it. Equal in size was a gardeners spade dimpled into the soil. It all seemed to be left behind by the giant in the English fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk. Couple this architecture with the largest, sculpted, European Sevillana olive tree collection in the world, open to the public, and you can begin to admire the detail and efforts made by the 140 expert horticulturists the Bellagio employs. Gazebos, bridges and water features helped support this theatrical garden and experiences like this change seasonally.
Finally, CITYCENTER!! The Architectural Record referred to this 8.5 billion dollar project, on its front cover, as a sand castle. 18 million-square feet, 6,000 hotel rooms, 2,400 condominiums, 38 restaurants and bars, a convention center, shopping mall, 150,000 square-foot casino and an Elvis themed Cirque du Soleil show all on 76 acres with LEED certification…WOW! The largest privately funded construction project in the history of the United States surely did not disappoint. The approach is magnanimous and as our taxi let us out under Aria’s porte- cochere, fountains and the “Focus” were within sight. “Focus” is an expansive, curved water wall made of textured stone measuring 250 feet long and 24 feet high. Programmable, both the speed and direction of the water wall can be controlled as it pulses and soothes your soul. Prominent artists have galleries just outside the outer entrance circle. Most impressive was the Richard MacDonald studio. Today’s, Anguste Rodin, here is genius that creates “dynamic, sensitive works”. Introduced to his work, I was most impressed with his sculpture of Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian Tatar dancer from the Soviet Union, who was known for his work in ballet. I imagined the piece sitting in our backyard held within our garden walls and it is here that I fully grasped the importance of art in the garden.
Vegas offers some of the greatest architectural feats done today. Land forms, plant forms and architecture all meld so creatively with independent themes running up and down the strip. Vegas… a city that is a true oasis, inspires imagination, holds dreams and continually proves that the impossible is certainly possible.