Sunday, March 21, 2010 | 8:01 a.m.
Architect Frank Gehry says he wanted a swirling stainless steel structure he designed for Las Vegas to be unique -- to stand out from what he called "the cacophony" of high-rise casinos and condos forming the spine of Sin City's sprawl.
Getting his first look at the nearly complete Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, he declared himself satisfied.
"It took my breath away," he said. "I like the way it fits. I wasn't trying to compete with the chaos around it."
"I mean, some people may think it's over the top," he added. "I don't think so."
Gehry, now 81, has built his career on shapes and angles all around the world: Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park; Seattle's Experience Music Project; the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
"You deliver a unique building that creates a sense of pride, that works, that keeps the rain out, is uplifting, and makes you happy to go to work and live in," he told The Associated Press during an interview and walk around the building in the past week.
"It's not just blah, blah, blah, bland," he said. "It contributes to the city. If you deliver that _ and by the way the rest of the world is interested in it _ it can create value and become an economic engine for the community."
Gehry, who lives and works in Santa Monica, Calif., said he turned down several previous requests to design buildings in Las Vegas before liquor distributor Larry Ruvo came calling several years ago.
"They asked me to do something unique in Las Vegas, something they would be proud of, that would attract groups to rent this room for events, and that would be like no other room in Vegas."
"That's pretty tough to do," Gehry said, "because Vegas has every type of room one can think of."
Gehry said he was swayed by the goal of Ruvo's $74 million project _ to attract a prestigious national medical research facility to study neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS. Ruvo's father, Lou Ruvo, suffered from Alzheimer's before he died in 1994.
"Frank Gehry allowed me to do what I wanted to do," Larry Ruvo said, "and that is to use his celebrity to help find a cure for a disease. Now we have an international consortium to achieve that goal."
Gehry said he joined the project because research into his own pet cause, Huntington's disease, is part of the medical mission.
"This building is a generator of funds for all those things," Gehry said of the soaring room with windows everywhere: to the blue sky, the brown mountains, the red stone pyramid of the Clark County Government Center across the street. The neon of the Las Vegas Strip stretches off to the south.
"This is going to be a fundraising tool to raise money for research," he said.
Gehry said he liked the challenge of designing a building on a corner of a big 61-acre former railroad yard west of downtown Las Vegas. It is also flanked by a massive wholesale furniture exposition and convention center, a retail outlet shopping mall and a concert and performing arts center due to open in 2012.
Work began in February of 2007. From the front, the building resembles aluminum foil draped over a stack of white building blocks. The windows in the skin are set at every angle. The four-story inner block was completed first. It opened in October 2008, housing Cleveland Clinic offices.
Patients began arriving in July 2009, through a traditional-looking cement courtyard and standard glass doors. A nonprofit organization called Keep Memory Alive supports research and treatment. Gehry's showpiece reception area is due to open in May.
Gehry knows not everyone likes his buildings, but said he doesn't let criticism get under his skin.
"I can understand when somebody doesn't get it," he said. "I feel these things take time."
He said he was excited about designing another Guggenheim Museum in the Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi. He said he withdrew from designing a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem because he's busy with other projects. He proudly showed photos of a 76-story tower he designed near New York City Hall.
In Las Vegas, he said he was prepared to wait for acceptance of his newest metallic masterpiece.
"The only thing is the personality of the building.," he said. "Is it going to fit in Vegas?"