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Dreaming the Skyline: Architects and Designers Who Transformed the Las Vegas Strip

From 1966's Caesars Palace to 2010's Cosmopolitan, we highlighted some of the architects and designers who transformed the skyline of Las Vegas Strip.

Photo by Ameer Basheer / Unsplash

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One day after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called Las Vegas a "gross desert" on a live TV interview on April 6th, she continued comparing Oakland to Las Vegas and said "the spectacular vista of our bay, our Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, the sunset over the Pacific ocean to the desert and some pretty tacky architecture.”

As a proud allied member of the American Institute of Architects association, we decided to publish an article about the talented architects and designers who transformed the beautiful Las Vegas Strip. Often times, architects and designers do not receive enough recognition and credit for their hard work. Media likes to feature high profile developers on the headlines to generate clicks and views. But for us, we want to do the opposite. Some of our favorite architects are low key, artistics, passionate, and sometimes socially awkward. Their beautiful works speak louder than themselves.

We understand that Vegas is more than just the Strip and casinos, but let us focus on one area at a time. We will do a series later to highlight other type of projects.

Disclaimer: we are not design professionals. All views and opinions are own own. We do not represent what a majority of the population thinks.

Shirley Joan "Jo" Harris

Interior Designer, 1966 Caesars Palace  & 1968 Circus Circus

Jo Harris was a woman interior designer who designed the original enrich Roman-themed Caesars Palace, opened in 1966 and the Circus Circus, opened in 1968.

Harris studied architecture at Georgia Tech. Prior to Las Vegas, she was hired by Jay Sarno to design his restaurants and nightclubs in Atlanta and other cities. In 1960s, she worked with Sarno again along with architect Melvin Grossman to design the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Harris is also credited for naming some of Caesars Palace restaurants including Cleopatra’s Barge and the Bacchanal Room.

She also worked with Sarno on the Circus Circus casino which opened in 1968 and a few other projects until he died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 62, at the Caesars Palace. Harris passed away in 2005 at the age of 72 in Sacramento.

Fast forward to 2022, Caesars Palace has been added towers and gone through several renovations. But Harris' Roman-themed design initiative and vision have been carried on and remain in the soul of the building today.

Martin Stern Jr.

Architect, 1969 International Hotel (Westgate Las Vegas), 1973 MGM Grand (Bally’s) and More

Photograph of a rendering of the International Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1968. Credit: Martin Stern Jr., A. I. A. Architect & Associates Image ID: UNLV Special Collections Martin Stern Photo Collection.
" . . . and (Kirk) Kerkorian said, 'I want to build a hotel.'
and I said, 'What kind of hotel?'
'A Big One'  

- from a conversation with Martin Stern, Jr. on UNLV's Special Collections Library collection.

Martin Stern designed the International Hotel, opened in 1969. After a few changes in ownerships and names, this hotel is known as the Westgate Hotel today by the Las Vegas Convention Center. Developed by Kirk Kerkorian, this hotel was the largest hotel in the world at the time with over 1,500 rooms. Elvis Presley did the grand opening performance at the hotel.

Stern worked with Kerkorian again on the first MGM Grand which opened in 1973. With 2,100 rooms, it was, again, the world's biggest hotel at the time.

Martin also designed the Silver Slipper, Sahara Hotel (Tangiers Tower), The D Las Vegas, Stardust (West Tower), Flamingo (Renovation), and more.

Roger Thomas

Hospitality Designer, 1980s Golden Nugget, 1989 Mirage, 1993 Treasure Island, 1998 Bellagio, 2005 Wynn and 2008 Encore

Steve Wynn said, "Roger was the creator and I was the editor."

- In the book "Quiet Kingmaker of Las Vegas: E. Parry Thomas".

When you compete in Las Vegas, the world’s most competitive hospitality market with over 150,000 rooms, you have to be different. Being different is the only true way to win.

Thomas was the former Head of Design of Wynn Resorts until he retired a few years ago. He and his team only work with the best designers in the world and use the best materials in the building. They are known in the industry for not having a budget for their projects (although Roger said he did have a budget).

The four most notable projects are probably the $630 million Mirage (1989), the $1.6 billion Bellagio (1998), the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas (2005), and the $2.3 billion Encore Las Vegas (2008). Each of these four hotels broke the gaming and non-gaming revenue records of Las Vegas history at the time when it opened.

What we like about Roger Thomas’ design is his originality. His hotels have its unique interior design style that he called the “Wynn Style”. When guests walk into a Wynn Resorts hotel, they will immediately know that they are at the Wynn just by looking at the interior design, ambiance, color scheme, and excellent customer service.

Do not design something you’ve already seen. Our industry is filled with people copying other people. It’s a wasted opportunity. Invent something, don’t copy someone else. You’re wasting an opportunity. And you’re going to get to the end of your life never having done anything original. Is that what you really want? I wanted my life to be filled with creating originality, with being able to create things that I’d never seen before, not copying things that someone else had done, because frankly, if you’re copying, you’re one room behind.”

- Roger Thomas said in the Hospitality Design Podcast, Episode 51.

Brad Friedmutter

Architect, 2006 Red Rock Casino, 2010 Cosmopolitan, and More

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas as seen on May 5, 2011. Allen McGregor/Courtesy under Creative Commons

Brad Friedmutter is the founder and CEO of Friedmutter Group. One of his most notable project is the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, the most expensive hotel ever built in the world at the time when it opened in 2010. His company also designed the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, one of the favorite local casinos among Vegas residents.

Originally from Brooklyn, Friedmutter received his bachelor of architecture degree from The Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York City in 1973. From 1981 to 1987, he was the Vice President of Design and Construction at Steve Wynn’s Atlandia Design (Mirage Resort’s design and development firm.) From 1987 to 1991, he held the same position at Bally’s Casino Resort. In 1991, he founded Friedmutter Group, a full-service architecture and design firm with a focus in hospitality projects. Besides Las Vegas, he also has designed projects in Michigan, Australia, New Jersey, Florida, and more.

$9.2 Billion City Center's Architect "Dream Team"

Daniel Libeskind, David Rockwell, Rafael Viñoly, Eugene Kohn and Art Gensler

From left, Daniel Libeskind, David Rockwell, Rafael Viñoly, Eugene Kohn and Art Gensler

We included the City Center project in this article because it was a 75-acre master planned urban city development project and the most expensive private real estate development project at the time. This project costs $9.2 billion and opened in 2009.

City Center (Photo Credit: AECOM)

Although we have our own opinion on the design and the Harmon Tower, we are not design and construction experts. We just want to give a shout out to this massive development project. This project absolutely transformed the skyline of Las Vegas Strip.

And from a simple finance perspective, this project has recovered from the Global Financial Crisis and MGM Resort sold a few of the towers for profit.


Disclaimer: we are not design professionals. All views and opinions are own own. We do not represent what a majority of the population thinks.

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