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September 15, 2014

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DAILY MEMO: ARCHITECTURE:

Why Ruvo’s a sight to see — right now

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Leila Navidi

Construction continues in July on the Frank Gehry-designed building that will house the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute Exterior

Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. Launch slideshow »

When friends or family visit from out of town, I like to take them to the Arts District to show them another side of Vegas — see a gallery exhibit, eat at a downtown restaurant or stroll the neighborhood examining buildings, signage and history.

The area seems poetic, riddled with photo ops and fascinating stories. The buildings are dinged, worn or refurbished with colorful storefronts. Others show their faded past.

On the way, I drive them by construction of the Frank Gehry building that will house the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Rarely do you get a chance to see how such a building — taking shape in the way buildings don’t normally take shape — is pieced together. To me, it closely resembles charred wreckage.

Bringing in a celebrity architect is big news around here, especially if it’s not on the Strip.

So I tell my visitors that we’re getting “a Gehry.” It’s newsworthy because, well, no one’s indifferent to the controversial architect. People seem to either love or hate his designs.

We can stand to look at so many blase office buildings for only so long. When that something different comes along it creates conversation, like when Michael Graves remodeled the Clark County Library. Residents were perplexed by its striking appearance. The building looked like a large plastic toy. “Fake terra cotta,” someone said. Library visitors often were caught touching the building as a way to settle the mystery of its shell. I took people to see that, too, even if it was just for a drive-by. It was too curious not to.

Now I check in on the Gehry periodically, enjoying its progress, which is jarring at first glance. Its woven and warped black facade appears to be collapsing in slow motion, melting like plastic in an oven.

Problem is, my out-of-town guests have seen a Gehry under construction in their hometowns. They have already deconstructed the construction. Or they simply don’t care.

But I’m pretty desperate to see something unusual. In my neighborhood every building looks exactly alike. (I have, on occasion, driven into the wrong neighborhood, thinking it’s mine.) But I’m OK with that because having every building in my neighborhood look alike is just as interesting to me as having a Gehry not look like any other building. In fact, while under construction, it resembles nothing more than the aftermath of disaster.

I’m sure that once it’s done, everyone will drive over to see the new spectacle. This town loves its celebrities, especially when they sparkle.

But anyone ignoring the process of the Gehry building under construction is really losing out. The half-finished architectural deviation is showing its innards for all of us to see. It’s more exciting, dynamic than your traditional 2-by-4 or I-beam frames.

By the time I saw the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the building was complete, heating up its neighbors with the reflective portions of the stainless steel facing. Its enclosed, massive self was taking up the neighborhood, protruding from its sequestered area and begging everyone to look at it in all its lovely glory, a futuristic structure like something out of the comics, a place for superheroes. A place unlike any other (unless you consider all the other Gehry buildings made of stainless steel). It’s really quite amazing.

But you should see the photos of it under construction.

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