Volume 24, Issue 2 - March/April 2010


First Things First
Building the ARIA Tower at CityCenter Proved a First for Many Groups Involved
by Ellen Rogers

In just three short years an architectural and construction team consisting of some of the industry’s best players designed and built a glittering city within a city that has forever transformed the famous Las Vegas skyline. Where the old Boardwalk Casino once sat, today stands CityCenter, a 67-acre complex that is home to hotels, casinos, retail establishments, restaurants and residences. CityCenter is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Infinity World Development Corp. of Dubai.

The CityCenter project was divided into several “blocks,” each of which included different building segments. The 3.8-million-square-foot glass and steel ARIA Resort & Casino, though, is located in the heart of CityCenter. The 4,000-room tower was designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and stands as the firm’s first casino project, as well as its first Las Vegas project.

“ARIA was [CityCenter’s] centerpiece and the owners wanted it to announce itself on the skyline of Las Vegas,” says Gregg Jones, the project’s design team leader with Pelli Clarke Pelli.

And announce itself the tower indeed does. Not only does it feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass, but also massive glass canopies and structural, point-supported wall systems. In addition to its aesthetics, the tower is a beacon of sustainable design, having earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) gold certification. In fact, owners and developers approached the entire CityCenter project with an eye toward green as it is the first hotel, retail district or residential development in Las Vegas to earn LEED Gold certification—not just one, but a total of six Gold certifications.

Creating a project of this scale was no easy feat. Architects, contract glaziers and suppliers all had to work closely throughout all phases to ensure a successful completion.

Creating a Vision
In 2004 MGM approached Pelli Clarke Pelli to discuss the CityCenter project, which they were contemplating at the time.

“We were not particularly interested in doing a themed architectural structure; luckily MGM was not either,” says Jones. “The theme that they wanted was good design. So it was very easy to say yes because all of our intentions and goals [were in sync].”

And while the architectural firm, which has designed such well-known structures as the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the International Finance Center in Hong King, had done casino studies, this project would be it’s first casino project.

“And up until that time we had done hotels, 200 or 300 keys; this was 4,000 keys. So this project was several first for us,” adds Jones.

Included in the design of ARIA is a massive, high-performance curtainwall system that was created to allow in natural daylight while blocking the sun’s rays. Enclos served as the contract glazier for the tower, which features Viracon’s VRE -138 1 1/8-inch, insulating, low-E glass in the vision and spandrel areas. Working through a joint venture with Baker Metal Products, Enclos provided design, engineering, fabrication and assembly and erection of 1.2 million square feet of curtainwall—the company’s largest curtainwall project. Installation took 22 months.

“From an aerial view of the site the building geometry is very unique. Two overlapping arc segments create its footprint,” says Bobby Zammetti, senior project manager with Enclos. “But one of the most unique features of the curtainwall are the corner units. There are roughly 3,300 of these, all of which are designed without a corner mullion that you would have in a conventional curtainwall unit.”

The high-performance features of the glass proved an attractive selection for MGM, particularly since sustainability was so important.

This building has floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass and every single room has a faceted bay and the glass is probably the most cost-effective way to achieve remarkably high performance levels,” says Jones. “The glass has surprisingly high light transmission and also, in many lights, has a high degree of reflectivity and in other lights and shades it looks surprisingly transparent. At night, when you look up and down the strip, most buildings [appear] highly mirrored and very dark. This glass really comes alive when you look at it at night and it glows from within.”

And, it’s the way that glass interacts with daylight as well as its ability to be both reflective and transparent that Jones says makes it a material his firm works with frequently.

“It’s so unique and [has the ability to do so much]. It has the ability to span pretty impressive distances with large thicknesses and it’s a quite cost-effective material. It also has the ability to stand the test of time,” says Jones. “It’s a material we constantly use and we try and use it in as many different [ways] and look at it in new ways each time we work with it. It seems to always be able have a new and different look.”

Looking Up
In addition to the curtainwall system, glass was also used in other ways throughout the ARIA project. Two massive canopy systems, as well as structural walls in the entrance areas are also defining elements of the project.

Speaking of the canopies, Jones says, “[We thought] it would be nice to not be under a dark cantilever and instead have the Las Vegas sun and ambient daylight, which would have a real glow while still achieving both weather protection and solar protection. So we used a fairly dense, 60-70 percent ceramic frit, which provides a constant ambient glow as well as protection from the direct sun and the weather.”

Novum Structures manufactured and supplied a number of these glazing systems, while installation was subcontracted to the Las Vegas branch of Giroux Glass. This work included a 37, 200–square-foot canopy located at the front entrance, and the front entry vestibule, which features stainless steel elliptical structural columns and swing doors. On the Harmon Avenue entrance, the company built a similar 18,400-square foot canopy and also a three-story, curved and inclined 32,000-square-foot wall.

“This wall is comprised of suspended steel fins with a machined groove in them and the glass is edge clamped,” says Ian Collins, president and chief executive officer of Novum. “The wall includes several vestibules and doorways, which use elliptical stainless steel profiles.” He adds that there is also a series of water features behind the wall comprised of cast glass braced by tension cables. The company also supplied a glass and steel atrium that’s located in the registration area.

“Immediately upon arrival you have a view into the building and when you are in the building you have a view out,” says Jones. “We wanted to achieve that in a way that did not involve a lot of mullions and together with [Novum] we developed a fascinating horizontal glazed system, barely 50-mm think. Since it spans column-to-column we did not need any additional vertical mullions and since we hung them, all of the vertical dead load was taken out so the glass spans from horizontal blade to horizontal blade and it was all hung from the ceiling and attached to the column.”

Sanxin Glass from China was Novum’s glass supplier for the entrance and canopy portion of the project. The canopies are constructed of laminated glass with a white frit.

Installation took Giroux glass about one year to complete and Jonathan Schuyler, a Giroux preconstruction executive and partner, says toward the end they had about 120 people on the job at one time.

“It was very dramatic the way it all came together in the end,” says Schuyler.

Relationships Matter
With so many parties involved in the construction of the ARIA tower it’s not surprising that constant, open communication was critical. Jones says he talked with members of the subcontracting team daily for about 30 months.

“The scale was so extraordinary; and with Novum their pieces were so large. It was truly the complexity of the structures and how the structures interacted with the glass and how the glass and structures interacted with the building,” Jones says. “There was an incredible degree of complexity with Novum; we were speaking with each other almost hourly.”

Collins adds, “We had a lump sum design build arrangement in that the bid drawings were incomplete and so we had to develop many of the details with the architect, and all the interfaces with surrounding trades had to be coordinated via the general contractor. Our suppliers were responsive and we avoided manufacturing on a changing field schedule by pre-making items as we could and storing them in Nevada. That way the fabrication was less interrupted than if we were trying to fabricate just-in-time from the factories.”

Speaking of the tower’s construction, Zammetti adds, “The schedule dictated everything. With a project of this size, lead times and deliveries of materials from our suppliers were critical. Constant communication with the architect and general contractor was necessary to ensure that any design issues would not impact any material flow from our suppliers.”

Careful Considerations
Just as designing, constructing and completing the ARIA project was a unique process, it also posed its share of unique challenges and considerations. Jones says the biggest challenge, regarding the tower and the canopy, was the massive scale.

“Any time you are doing 28 acres of curtainwall with 30-plus kilometers of sunshade, there is phenomenal complexity,” says Jones. “If you see the building form, it’s a pair of intersecting arcs and every room has a bay window and literally hundreds of corners on each floor; each floor is 112,000 square feet. As much as we tried to standardize the basic unit, there were an enormous number of unique conditions that had to respond to the evolving form. As far as the canopy, it involved an extraordinary number of phenomenal cantilevers. In both cases, the Harmon entrance canopy as well as the casino circle canopy, these cantilever out nearly 100 feet.”

Scheduling was also a challenge.

“Despite having a fixed opening date for the casino we could tell at the outset that the schedule and sequencing would be a moving target on such a large overall undertaking. So we opted to open a large storage yard and inventory thousands of pre-fabricated custom elements in Las Vegas,” says Collins. “Daily deliveries were made to the site from this yard so virtually any change in sequence or request could be accommodated quickly. This was a massive field inventory control effort, which is unusual in a construction environment.” Other challenges he points out included shop drawing coordination, field activity overlap, access and scheduling conflicts.  

Zammetti agrees that while working on the tower portion they, too, saw their own share of challenges.

“The site logistics were the biggest challenge on this project. With four other buildings being built on the same 67-acre site, deliveries were difficult. Storing materials on the ground, staging and installing the curtainwall units required intense daily coordination with the general contractor,” says Zammetti.

“This building has floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass and every single room has a faceted bay and the glass is probably the most cost-effective way to achieve remarkably high performance levels.”
—Gregg Jones, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

All for One
The ARIA project provided many firsts for all of those involved and it now stands as an example of that hard work and dedication. It was a project that also proved to be a learning experience for everyone involved. Jones says it wasn’t just any one thing he learned, but hundreds of things. Excellent communication made the project a success.

“And that’s something that not a lot of firms do well, not a lot of contractors do well and not a lot of architects do well. It’s something we make a concerted effort at and it’s extremely important to communicate your intentions and stay in constant contact and to have partners in a process who want to be partners and share ideas. Without that intellectual climate this project would not have happened, especially given the complex scope and the astoundingly compressed time line,” says Jones.

Collins says he learned the importance of being proactive and helpful to the client’s construction team.

“It is very easy to say ‘not my scope’ when problems arise, but if problems continue unsolved then the time will eventually run out for everyone. So it is actually in your interests to help and keep things moving,” Collins says.

And such efforts, Schuyler points out, “make you proud of the entire Las Vegas subcontractor community. We built an entire city block in just three years.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal.

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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