Nevada may not have as long an architectural history as some, but there are a number of spectacular buildings in the Silver State.
In Las Vegas, there are shimmering, curvaceous casino buildings and the concrete angularity of mid-century modern. Reno is home to both the 19th century’s nod at the past and the 1960’s nod to the future. And all over the state, other buildings tell their own aesthetic and architectural stories.
As its name indicates, City Center is actually a group of several linked buildings—the Aria Hotel & Casino, Vdara Hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Veer Towers residences and the Crystals shopping center. Opened in 2009, the 78-acre complex was designed by Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects and is run by the MGM Resorts corporation. Along with the striking design, the complex is dotted with modern art from the likes of Henry Moore, Maya Lin and James Turrell.
The Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center is located on the University of Nevada campus. The planetarium was designed by local architect Raymond Hellmann in a distinctive parabolic design nestled into a hill. When the planetarium opened in 1963, it was the first in the nation with a 360-degree projector. It still offers science displays and regular shows, including “Dawn of the Space Age” and “The Wall: Light Show”
As the name indicates, the Fourth Ward School Museum began its life as a schoolhouse. From 1867-1936, the building was used as a school for local students. After a period of vacancy, the four-story Mansard roofed building was restored and reopened as a museum in 1986. The museum is open from May through October.
The lobby of the La Concha Motel was designed by famed architect Paul Revere Williams in 1961. In 2006, the shell-like concrete structure was painstakingly taken down and reassembled a few miles north on Las Vegas Boulevard. It now functions as a lobby, gift shop and offices for the Neon Museum.
One of the most unique buildings in this or any city, the Lou Ruvo Center was designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry and opened in 2010. Local businessmen Lou Ruvo and Billy Baldwin started the project “Keep Memory Alive”, and the Center, in the hope of furthering Alzheimer’s research, as well as other memory-related diseases.
The Luxor is perhaps one of the most impressive examples of kitsch in a town overflowing with it. The pyramid contains over 4,000 hotel rooms and the light beam at the top is the strongest in the world, visible up to 300 miles away. Inside, the enormous space is ringed by balconies and contains restaurants, bars and, of course, plenty of gaming. The replica of the Great Sphinx standing guard in front of the Luxor offers another fine photo opportunity.
The Morelli House was the home of Antonio Morelli, bandleader at the Sands Hotel & Casino. The home was created by architect Hugh Taylor with the low-slung silhouette, planes of glass and breeze blocks characteristics of mid-century modern architecture. The interior was designed with open spaces, built-in bars and a big kitchen for entertaining—members of the Rat Pack and other golden-age Strip performers used to hang here after hours. Guided tours of the house are available on certain Saturday afternoons—email for more information.
A neoclassical style structure, the Nevada State Capitol Building is almost 150-years-old. The main building has French crystal windows and Alaska marble floors and an octagonal cupola; several annexes were added in the early 20th century. The state legislature has moved to another building, but the capitol building still serves a governor’s offices and also features historical exhibits.
A distinctive building with a golden geodosic-dome style roof, the Pioneer Center has been Reno‘s leading performance arts space since 1967. The center hosts national touring companies of Broadway productions and is also home to the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and the Artown community organization.
Opened in 2012, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is a focal point for the Las Vegas arts community. The art deco-styled building took the nearby Hoover Dam as design inspiration. The complex contains three performance spaces—Reynolds Hall, which is home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre, and two smaller spaces, Myron’s Cabaret Jazz and the Troesh Studio Theater. National companies of touring Broadway shows play the Smith Center, which has also hosted the Pilobus and Alvin Ailey dance companies and musicians from Liza Minnelli to David Byrne.
The Stratosphere is not just the pinnacle of the Las Vegas skyline, but also the tallest freestanding tower in the United States at 1,149 feet. The property was opened in 1996 as Vegas World, under the auspices of old-school casino mogul Bob Stupak, and was designed by high-rise experts Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The tower contains a bar, restaurant and observation deck, as well as several thrill rides for those unafraid of heights.
The Thunderbird Lodge was once the waterfront estate of an eccentric, reclusive millionaire; today it’s a park and event space that is open to all. There is a turreted main house surrounded by a variety of smaller buildings and other architectural features. The property was designed in the rustic style in the late 1930s; the buildings feature elaborate woodwork and sensational views. Tours can be scheduled from May through October. There are also special food, wine and holiday events.