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Feature Story - February 2008

Brain Teaser

Gehryís Curvy Creation Takes Shape in Downtown Las Vegas

Located in the future Union Park mixed-use development, the $70 million Lou Ruvo Brain Institute brings Frank Gehry's uniquely curvaceous architecture to Las Vegas.

By Tony Illia

Frank Gehry - the globetrotting 78-year-old architect - has designed his first Las Vegas building: the $70 million Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in downtown.

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The complex on 1.9 acres is at the northeast corner of Bonneville Avenue and Grand Central Parkway on city-deeded land. The five-story, 67,000-sq-ft facility will play a prominent role in Las Vegas’ Union Park-a $6 billion, 61-acre mixed-use development project expected to help revitalize downtown.

The center, which broke ground Feb. 9, 2007, is expected to open in November.

“This is something that will separate us from any other place on the face of the Earth,” says Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. “People are going to come to downtown Las Vegas to take a look at this phenomenon.”

The center will house 13 research, diagnostic and outpatient exam rooms for people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases of the brain. It will offer clinical care, neuron-imaging suites and assessment-planning services.

The Frank Gehry-designed building contrasts the wildly contorted area with a section of neatly stacked box-like shapes, intended to reflect the two hemispheres of the brain.
The Frank Gehry-designed building contrasts the wildly contorted area with a section of neatly stacked box-like shapes, intended to reflect the two hemispheres of the brain.
Image courtesy Gehry Partners LLP

Nearly 5 million people are affected by various forms of dementia resulting in $100 billion in care costs annually, the institute reports.

The Lou Ruvo Brain Center, unlike most health care facilities, will have a 500-seat activity hall with a 3,000-sq-ft Wolfgang Puck kitchen and café. It plans to rent out its public areas at night and on weekends to help meet its operating expenses.

There also will be a Museum of the Mind, a two-story, 5,000-sq-ft space with Smithsonian-style exhibits for schoolchildren and visitors. Other amenities will consist of a resource library, conference room and multipurpose area.

Gehry’s celebrity status often transforms otherwise ordinary buildings into cultural landmarks. City officials are hopeful that this will help launch a downtown renaissance.

“This building will be iconic,” says Mayor Goodman. “It will be a piece of artwork that will draw people from around the world.”

“To me, this is a mouse that roars,” Gehry says about the project’s small-but-commanding presence. “It will be a truly unique building, intended to bridge all aspects of patient care, research and education.”

General contractor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. and steel contractors Regional Steel Corp. and Union Erectors LLC will fabricate and install 1,200 tons of steel to complete the 67,000-sq-ft structure.
General contractor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. and steel contractors Regional Steel Corp. and Union Erectors LLC will fabricate and install 1,200 tons of steel to complete the 67,000-sq-ft structure.
Photo by Tony Illia

Construction has entailed some obstacles for general contractor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Baltimore. The 80-ft-tall building, for example, features a curvy, steel-and-glass enclosed trellis over the 9,500-sq-ft activity area. The undulating structure makes up the building’s southern façade.

The cladding consists of 400 unique panels with 200 window boxes that are being custom fabricated in China. Each panel is specifically cut, shaped and numbered to meet a particular radius. Whiting-Turner must sequentially install each numbered panel from north to south.

The panels support windows that are built-up like a roofing membrane with a final stainless steel exterior layer. The interconnecting, Y-flange panels are held aloft by a pair of tree-like supporting columns whose trunks contain heating and cooling vents. The mechanical system runs through the floor and rises up through the plate steel columns.

“There isn’t a straight line in the entire building,” one project official says. “The entire thing is one big radial curve.”

Construction will require 1,200 tons of steel to complete.

The project uses a 3-D building information modeling system created by Gehry that turns virtual concepts into reality. Unlike traditional blueprints, it allows fabricators, erectors and constructors to view building components layer-by-layer with a 360-degree viewpoint for exceptional detail. The system leaves little room for ambiguity, thereby reducing change orders and requests for information.

“It takes the friction out of the process,” says Stuart Jacobson, CEO of Gehry Technologies which was formed in 2002 by Gehry as a way to share the building technologies he uses for his architectural creations with the rest of the industry. “Adoption of 3D modeling is less than 5% across the industry, but the industry is starting to move in this direction.”

The trellis abuts to a more traditional steel-framed structure with a smooth plaster exterior and concrete-over-metal decking floors. It’s conceived as a series of offset boxes for an articulated northern façade that includes 10 glass-encased spaces that overlook downtown. The architecture purposefully contrasts the wildly looking trellis with stacked blocks, suggesting the dual functions of the brain, simultaneously ordered and chaotic, structured and imaginative.

“A non-stressful and calming, yet stimulating and quiet setting can have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s patients and stimulate their minds,” says Gregg Moon of the American Institute of Architects’ Health Academy. “Patient recuperation can be improved by environment.”

It’s an area where Gehry has experience. His Maggie’s Centre, for instance, a Scottish cancer care facility, is an uplifting building that received rave reviews for both its design and convalescent care. Gehry incorporates thoughtful details into the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute that aid recovery. The building, despite its dreamlike appearance, pays close attention to details like acoustics with sound blankets, thickened walls and grouted door jambs that keep noises to a minimum. 

The center is being funded by the Las Vegas-based nonprofit Keep Memory Alive Foundation for brain disease research, founded by Larry Ruvo, Nevada’s senior managing director for Southern Wine and Spirits. The new building is named after Ruvo’s father, who died of Alzheimer’s in 1994.

 

Key Players

Owner/Developer: Keep Memory Alive Foundation
Architect: Gehry Partners LLC
General Contractor: Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.
Electrical: Helix Electric of Nevada
Mechanical: Big Town Mechanical
Concrete: Sahara Concrete
Steel: Regional Steel Corp.; Union Erectors LLC
Glazing: Sierra Glass & Mirror
Landscaping: ValleyCrest

 

 

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