Friday, Feb. 17, 2006 | 12:32 p.m.
There's always one thing for certain about Frank Gehry's architectural vision: it triggers a response.
The 77-year-old, no-holds-barred architect from Los Angeles has unveiled his design for a privately funded Alzheimer's research institute at the 61-acre Union Park near downtown, and now readers are weighing in.
Gehry got some kudos for his work, but most of the responses I received were not just negative, but nasty. Why are people - in Las Vegas of all places - so critical?
These people embrace a fake volcano that belches flames every 15 minutes and now they want to throw Gehry into it. Are we lost in our own caricatures and parodies?
These must be the same people who are mourning the loss of the big clown face at the former Boardwalk, and celebrate the giant Coke bottle on the Strip as if it's inspired by Michelangelo's David. These are people who tell friends to get a room at a hotel steeped in history, and then send them to that huge castle at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue.
I'm guessing the people who are scorning Gehry's design are the same ones who will load up their Edsel with Keystone-swilling relatives and show off that monstrosity near the Spaghetti Bowl - that God-awful Furniture Mart at the World Market Center.
And can someone please explain to me that huge UFO hovering outside the front of the Fashion Show mall? OK, I'll cool off now. This is a free society; people can be critical of Gehry's design. (There is, after all, no accounting for people's taste. Some people put catsup on a good steak, wear patterned Bermuda shorts with black socks and park on their front lawns.)
Of course, there is some really fine architecture in this town. I love the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and Wynn Las Vegas, for different reasons. And I even kind of like the MGM Grand, especially on the rare foggy night when its eerie emerald glow suggests the future of Yucca Mountain.
But Gehry's building, the Lou Ruvo Alzheimer's Institute, will be in a class by itself, for all the right reasons.
The playful, building-block design of its main medical building, and the contorted checkerboard shell of steel lattice and windows that will define its public spaces, will make it a compelling, must-see attraction. Deal with it, folks: This is exciting architecture.
But among a handful of e-mails and phone calls, at least one reader agreed with me. Madeleine wrote that the project would "actually catapult Las Vegas into the leagues of real cities."
But people are more likely to write if they're angry about an issue, and so here it comes.
Margaret said the Alzheimer's center "looks like an implosion in progress. Gehry is surely putting us on."
A fellow named Dean took both me and Gehry to task: "The design is a joke. ... You pan some of the Strip designs, but they are magnificent compared to the mess that is proposed for the Alzheimer's Institute. ... It reminds me of something that our esteemed Mayor may have dreamed up after having too many of his beloved 'Bombay Sapphires.' "
In a telephone call so passionate I thought she was going to grab me through the handset, Marion said: "It's an atrocity, a waste of money. It's the ugliest thing I've seen in my entire life. It looks like it's going to fall down. It's an embarrassment. There's no way to explain it. An atomic bomb couldn't have made it so ugly."
Joyce wrote: "It looks like someone crumbled a piece of tinfoil and threw it away. I would not be proud of this building, it will be a laughingstock to Las Vegas."
Oh, I think people have been laughing at Las Vegas for years.
Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 259-2310 or at [email protected]