Eco-Friendly Architecture on the Strip
by tony illia
“Green” building has gone from a boutique idea to mainstream practice in some of Las Vegas’s largest building projects, pushing local architects to think about eco-conscious design on a monumental level.
Their innovative ideas on reducing waste and maximizing resources have taken off and won awards the world over, our local designers and builders serving as leaders in green building on an international level. “Green is becoming who we are now,” says Annette Bubak, president of Nevada Energy Star Partners, a coalition of green developers and business partners. “It’s a part of the culture here.”
This type of building is especially apropos in our post-recession real estate culture, as it emphasizes quality construction and conservation for more energy-efficient homes, hotels, offices, and shops. Green design can lower overhead costs through reduced power and water bills without sacrificing style and design; it’s the type of thing that companies always value, but especially during a recession. Buildings that have been gold-certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), on average, use 11 percent less water and 25 percent less energy, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC).
“Green growth is phenomenal across the globe,” says Harvey Bernstein, vice president of industry insights and alliances at McGraw-Hill Construction. Take CityCenter, for example. MGM Resorts International’s 67-acre Strip resort complex consists of 18 million square feet of hotel rooms, residences, shops, and entertainment space designed by a constellation of star architects, including Helmut Jahn, Rafael Viñoly, David Rockwell, César Pelli, and Daniel Libeskind, among others.
Yet CityCenter is energy-efficient, too, with exteriors that reduce heat transfer from the sun, window shading devices that transfer heat, reflective rooftops, and specially coated high-performance glass. The property uses up to 40 percent less water than a project of comparable size through low-flow pressurized faucets, showers, and toilets. CityCenter’s energy initiatives save enough electricity to power 8,800 households annually.
CityCenter is the largest project to ever receive LEED certification from the USGBC. LEED grades project sustainability based on points awarded for energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, and indoor air quality, among other things.
“CityCenter opened everybody’s eyes on why sustainability is important,” says Gensler Principal J.F. Finn, who served as CityCenter’s executive architect. “People began to think that if MGM Mirage is doing it, maybe we should take a second look at LEED and sustainability.”
Indeed, the Smith Center similarly pursued LEED certification. The Center’s two-building complex uses glues, carpets, and paints with low-volatile organic compounds for improved indoor air quality, plus energy-efficient windows and natural lighting. Building waste material was recycled during construction, and the building has high-efficiency mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
“Developers and owners are seeing the value in green building as a competitive differentiator,” says Rick Van Diepen, an associate principal with the architecture firm PGAL and past president of the USGBC’s Nevada chapter. “The bottom-line decisions are becoming paramount in terms of lowering operating costs. People are beginning to understand the benefits more and more.”
Van Diepen’s own home, with yearly power costs of an astoundingly low $250, was featured on HGTV as a model of green responsibility. He also designed the LEED platinum-certified Habitat for Humanity homes in Henderson, now national Habitat prototypes.
Green offices have an easier time recruiting and retaining employees, studies show, because it sends a message of corporate responsibility and values. A sustainable workplace is increasingly doubling as part of a company’s corporate identity and branding.
“It’s a popular thing with the younger generation,” says Chris Larsen of JMA, Nevada’s largest architecture firm and the first to attain membership in the USGBC. “They want to work for a company that is thinking sustainable because it’s cool and the right thing to do.”
But creating a green environment doesn’t necessarily require new construction or even a significant investment. It can be as simple as replacing light bulbs: Compact fluorescent lights use about 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last more than six times longer.
“There are simple strategies for lowering operating costs,” says Craig Galati, principal at LGA, which designed Springs Preserve as a model of ecological management and future preservation. “You can change out plumbing fixtures with low-flow alternatives or install a digital programmable thermostat. Small things can sometimes make a big difference.”
photography courtesy of citycenter; photography by geri kodey (smith center); courtesy of citycenter (citycenter), rick van diepen (home interior, habitat)