Redesigning Las Vegas

Entertainment Architecture for the Experience Economy

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

[Vegas] gives people what they want, or seduces them into wanting things they didn’t even know existed.” — Stefan Al

Since the publication of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’s seminal ‘Learning from Las Vegas’, (a facsimile edition of which has been re-published this year by MIT Press), the city has also drawn throngs of architects and urban researchers, eager to discover and learn from its architectural extravagance, simultaneously making Las Vegas the go-to model for many resorts and entertainment districts across the world. Macau reclaimed hundreds of acres of the South China Sea to build a Las Vegas-style Strip, and Singapore, a model city for urban development throughout Asia, styled its new central business district Marina Bay Sands on a Las Vegas-style resort.

A view facing north onto The Strip. Photograph © Mark Damon / Las Vegas News Bureau

A new breed of visitor is showing up [in Vegas] … to enjoy the good rooms, food, and shows but ―and this is where it hurts― not to gamble.” Gary Green

In his book, Stefan Al puts forward that the purchasing preferences of the millennial market are shifting the typology of new-build projects in Vegas towards mixed-use, entertainment-driven schemes over casinos, which he terms ‘integrated resorts’. Visitors can witness a growing number of celebrity chef restaurants, shows, nightclubs, designer boutiques, hotel suites, concert venues and hair-raising rides appearing on The Strip. One such project is The LINQ Promenade by Caesars Entertainment, a new open-air dining and entertainment district which combines retail spaces with experience-driven activities, unashamedly aimed at millennial visitors. This year, Caesars Entertainment are expanding the Promenade to include the ‘Fly LINQ’ zip-line, which simultaneously launches guests superman-style from a 114-foot launch tower. Developed by the team behind the High Roller, the world’s largest observation wheel, the $20 million experience-driven project features ten side-by-side zip lines.

‘Fly Linq’ is set to launch this year. Render © Caesars Entertainment

The gaming component used to be a much stronger revenue stream for casinos, now you see entertainment and retail gradually taking center stage.” Rob Heiman

MGM Resorts’ recent transformation of a former nightclub into an Esports area equipped with an LED video wall, daily gaming stations and a streaming and television-quality production studio, exemplifies this new trend for integrating gaming technologies into existing casino buildings. Some casinos have also launched video game programs aimed at visitor groups, such as ‘Daily Fantasy Sports’, where players can win money for participating in fantasy game leagues and skill-based slot games and hybrids such as Frogger. Some casinos are also hosting video game live streams, such as a three-day Dungeons and Dragons extravaganzas.

Jack Entertainment’s Synergy Table Games © Interblock USA

The Strip began as essentially anti-urban, with inwardly oriented resorts located outside of the incorporated city of Las Vegas” Stefan Al

‘The Park’, one of a new breed of projects being developed for Las Vegas. © !Melk

While interior remodelling of casinos seems for the most part surface-deep, some of the most significant changes to The Strip appear to be occurring outside, in a move somewhat contrary to decades of entertainment industry thinking.

As Stefan Al puts forward in his book, the responsiveness of the Las Vegas Strip to cultural tendencies and architectural reinvention is not only due to its reliance on tourism revenue as its main income stream, but also a rare urban planning situation which renders it exempt from zoning laws. “At the peak of the popularity of Western movies, casino builders welcomed guests with cowboy saloons featuring stuffed buffalo heads”, explains Al, “on the cusp of the suburbanization of America, they built bungalows with lavish pools and verdant lawns. When Disney became the world’s number one entertainment corporation, Vegas casinos built entire theme parks and a larger-than-life Cinderella castle. And when other cities built architectural icons to attract tourists, Las Vegas developers commissioned the world’s star architects.”

Digital projections on the Lake of Dreams at the Wynn Hotel © Wynn Resorts

Las Vegas developers have engineered a wide palette of unforgettable experiences […] everything is purposefully designed to leave lasting impressions, from the smells to the sounds to the architecture.” Stefan Al



Architect and researcher based in Tanzania, East Africa. Follow for discussions on how global developments are shaping the built environment👇

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Hannah Wood

Architect and researcher based in Tanzania, East Africa. Follow for discussions on how global developments are shaping the built environment👇