This week, I am going beyond the Disney theme parks to tell you about a pair of interesting things. First up, a very interesting talk and book about the planning history of Los Angeles. Then we'll take a look at the most expensive privately funded construction project in United States history - CityCenter in Las Vegas. Walt Disney thought that big. Does this project in the desert measure up?

Planning Los or visit the LARPHG website ( Deadline for registration is April 24.


When I am evaluating a urban-planning project, I try to determine if the overall project and its various components are either Exceptional, Acceptable, or Regrettable. I will try and apply those standards to CityCenter

Arrival experience verdict: Regrettable.

Verdict: Acceptable.

The 47-story Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas was designed by Khon Pederson Fox and combines a 400-room hotel with 207 residential units. The firm is best known for its Post-modern towers and they have shown a great deal of restraint with this hotel. The architecture does not compete with the other towers. The entrance is not obvious reminding the casual visitor that this is an exclusive club and you may not be welcome. Verdict: Acceptable.

Verdict: Exceptional.

The 1,543-room Vdara Hotel and Spa is a smoke free, all-suite hotel designed by Rafael Vinoly of RV Architecture. The tower sits at the rear of the property and compared to most hotels on the Strip, this one seems to have a feeling of intimacy amongst all the steel and glass. Behind the front desk is a work by Frank Stella. I especially liked the lobby bar with its innovative outside seating area. What I did not like about the hotel was its placement in relation to the rest of CityCenter. They claim that the hotel is directly connected to Aria and Bellagio. True enough in the case of Bellagio. Just follow the signs to the back end of that property. But most guests want to pass through Aria on the way to the Strip. Seems simple enough.

The front door is right there. However, there is a huge traffic circle with a giant work of public art by Nancy Rubins featuring canoes arranged as a flower or something. To get from one front door to another means skirting along the edge of the traffic circle. You dare not cross or you will get smashed by a cab. During a very hot day the walk is just long enough to turn a lot smiles into a lot of frowns. You feel disconnected and are reminded that in Las Vegas, the car is still king. Verdict: Love the hotel but not the entrance -

If you are a fan of Mid-Century modernism, then prepare to be in heaven when you visit the Aria. This is my vision of what the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World would look like if it were built today. The 61-story hotel was designed by Cesar Pelli and has 4,004 rooms. From the street, the structure appears to be a gentle glass and steel crescent with each bay of the front facade skillfully set back so that the alternating repetition creates a shimmering effect.

In keeping with the theme of the here and now, the industrial size lobby features an elegant front desk and a massive window overlooking the entrance to the shopping mall. The lobby furniture features stone slabs and plenty of earth tones.

At a hotel, one way to save energy is to reduce the need for air-conditioning while the guest is out of the room. Instead of relying on the guests, the Aria relies on technology. As you open the door, the room will come alive. The shades will automatically retract and the lights will come on. When you are ready to leave, all you have to do is push one button right at the door to reset the room. Heck, just playing with the power curtains is a reason to stay here. You can adjust the lights, the curtains, the temperature and the television through a panel near the bed. The beds and the bathroom fixtures are what you would expect at a five-star hotel. Our room was configured so that the bathtub looked out through a floor to ceiling window at the Strip.

So far the experience is Exceptional.

There is just one thing. The view when you look down. While many of the rooms have a view of the Las Vegas Strip (and the airport, which can be hypnotizing at times), the magic is lost when it comes to the view of the HVAC equipment on the top of the Casino and the primary parking structure adjacent to the Mandarin. Of course, the roof of the mall is a work of art. Maybe that is why I was let down with the rest of the complex.

Walt Disney knew better. In his vision for EPCOT, hotel guests would have been looking down at an exercise deck with gardens. CityCenter should cover the top deck of the parking structures and plant gardens. They should cover the equipment with better screening. And then they should think even bigger. Cover the massive entry driveway with a pedestrian deck. CityCenter suffers from something rather simple - benches. If you want to sit you better be gambling or eating or drinking. Otherwise, pedestrians are not welcome here.

The 165,000-square foot Casino was also designed by Cesar Pelli. Earth tones dominate and all of the hard edges have been softened through the use of fabrics and other organic materials in all of the right places. Throughout the facilities are nice spots to get away and people watch. The Casino is one of the highlights of the entire property and the one that will influence all of the other casinos to come. Verdict: Exceptional.

There is one tower on the corner across the street from the Cosmopolitan that currently functions as a billboard for the Elvis show inside the Aria. The Harmon Hotel was designed by Foster and Partners and never opened. The building was deemed unsafe and has been condemned. Structural issues with regards to the rebar was cited as one of the reasons and the building could collapse in an earthquake.

Another fun feature is the public art program. The developers wanted to make a statement and invested more than $40 million in public art. They have gathered works from some of the most renowned sculpture artists, including Maya Lin (a metal ribbon behind the Aria front desk), Claes Oldenburg (a giant eraser), and one of my favorites, the scrolling text of Jenny Holzer in the valet parking area.

A special mention must be paid to the water fountain at the front driveway from WET, which puts on its own miniature version of the World Of Color. You can pick up a guide to the art at the Concierge desk.

I was impressed by CityCenter but something did not seem quite right. In the end, the complex does not contain that timeless quality of building. It has all of the efficiencies of a theme park without any of the emotional connection. This conflict is embedded into the design. If you have been there what did you think?


One of the benefits of writing a book, like Walt and the Promise of Progress City,

May 3 @ 10:30 a.m to Noon
460 East New England Avenue
Winter Park FL

May 3 @ 6:00 p.m. to 8:00
Albertson Room
101 East Central Boulevard
Orlando FL

May 5 @ 6:00 p.m.

May 6 @ 2:00 p.m.
May 6 @ 7:00 p.m.
Was Walt Disney a New Urbanist?
With Chad Emerson Project Future

May 7 and 8 Walt Disney World
Meeting with various Cast Member teams.

May 20 @ 11:00 a.m.

There's more to come in June and July. Thanks for your support.

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