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Photo: T. R. Witcher
Las Vegas Weekly
T. R. Witcher
Thu, Mar 12, 2009 (midnight)

ocean of glass


Modern and contemporary architecture is in large part defined by its generous use of glass. But the degree to which the buildings of our time work is linked to the quality of that glass. When it’s very transparent, we think of individual homes like Philip Johnson’s Glass House or Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House—museum-piece “machines for living” that render human beings moving art-gallery pieces, forever on display. Beautiful but cold. When buildings go the opposite way, glass becomes mirrored and highly reflective. This may be good for ensuring a building’s interior doesn’t roast by letting in too much sun, but we end up with a thousand gaudy postmodern towers. Sparkling and empty. (Trump, anyone?)

Anthony Marnell III’s new M Resort, reported to have cost $1 billion, manages to find the middle ground. The small, 390-room hotel rises 14 stories at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in the far southern end of the Valley. Designed by Marnell Corrao Associates, the curving tower is shaped somewhat like an eye, and it’s clad in a luscious ocean-blue glass that is more transparent than the bronzed glass of a Red Rock or Wynn (meaning it’s easier to see the life of the hotel behind the glass). That is countered nicely by frosted-blue glass spandrels on the south side (which cover parts of the building, like elevator shafts, that don’t need windows). The combination of openness and opaqueness gives the tower a convincing sense of texture.

Light floods the inside—everywhere. The wonderful, airy lobby opens out onto huge views of the outdoor pool, and the hotel is bisected by a long corridor, studded with skylights, that runs through the spine of thebuilding. It is virtually impossible to get lost in the interior, and while the glass lets in plenty of sunlight, it also exposes the lights of the casino to the outside at night.
The two-story base of the resort—which houses the restaurants and bars and casino—is clad in travertine and chocolate-brown porcelain tiles. While the stone provides appropriate contrast to the glass tower, it’s the only part of the building that feels uninspired. It’s solid but forgettable.

The M continues the evolution of large-scale design in Las Vegas, and the continued rehabilitation, for most of us, of the word “modern”in architecture. This being Vegas, eventually the M will morph into some kind of small resort city—expansion plans include theaters, a regional mall, a second tower and possibly a residential component. Right now, though, the singular curving tower, set down all alone at the edge of town, has a certain clarity. While it’s unlikely Las Vegans will give up their faux-Tuscan stucco homes, the M brings the glassy allure of contemporary design a little closer to home.
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